Sunday, September 14, 2008

NLF 2008 Week 2: Life After Brady

The day the music died in New England
Not sure if you heard about this, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury eight minutes into the opening game last Sunday.

And at that moment, the 2008 NFL season unofficially ended for New England fans.

Now, some people (read: unmitigated homers and eternal "glass half full" optimists) are trying to put a positive spin on the devastating loss by implying that career backup Matt Cassel could come in and make like his mentor by "pulling a Brady", a.k.a doing what Brady did when he replaced injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and go on to league superstardom.

Me, I don't buy it for a second.

For one reason, Cassel hasn't started a football game since high school. He was permanently parked behind Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC, and then all-everything league poster boy Brady in New England for the last four years. That type of resume doesn't portend to years of success in this league.

For another, he isn't that good. He's somewhat mobile, somewhat accurate, and somewhat efficient. But nothing that he has done, in four years of preseason action and mop up duty, strikes you as seeing a player who has star potential. He looks very much like a career backup, which is what he has been his whole career.

For these reason I say the Pats season is over. Oh sure, they might win 10-12 games, thanks to a weak schedule and the pitiful parity that plagues the league nowadays, but so what. A first round playoff loss is not what Pats fans and players strive for, not with three Lombardi trophies already residing in Foxborough.

No matter what else happens, anything less than a fourth trophy is a failure for this team. And if New England couldn't win that last season with Tommy Boy, then I'm willing to go out on a limb and say they're not going to win it this season without him.

But you're welcome to go out and prove me wrong, Matt.
As for the rest of the league, there were plenty of other injuries in Week 1 to depress other fan bases as well. Chargers DE Shawne Merriman finally smartened up and decided to have reconstructive surgery on his mangled knee, so his season is over; New Orleans lost potent offensive weapon WR Marques Colston for 4-6 weeks with a thumb injury; and Titans QB Vince Young injured more than his knee in a win over Jacksonville, as a bizarre scene unfolded in which the police were called to locate VY after his mom worried he might kill himself.

Other than that it was a quite Week 1.

Some surprises included the Cowboys dismantling the supposed playoff-contending Browns; ditto the Broncos destroying the hapless (again) Raiders; the Panthers snuck a last second victory out from under the Chargers; and Brett Favre led the Jets to a win over a game Miami team in his debut with Gang Green.

All of this makes for a wide open season (what else is new), and of course there are some key games to keep an eye on this week. Here are some to watch in my special "farewell to football in Foxborough" edition of the Top 5, complete with my predictions:

1.) Patriots (1-0) at Jets (1-0) 4:15
The first game AB (after Brady) was supposed to be one of the most intriguing on the schedule this year. You've got the Mangini/Belichick angle, made even spicier since the protege ratted out the mentor last season to ignite the whole Spygate saga. You've got Brett Favre's first division clash, leading the little team that wants to be great against the mighty Pats. And now, sans Brady, you've got the Jets thinking they can actually dethrone the king and take over the AFC East penthouse.

Even without Brady, this one promises to be a decent match up, if only to see which QB disappoints his fans more.
MY PICK: Jets 24, Pats 21

2.)Bears (1-0) at Panthers (1-0) 1:00
Both teams are coming off surprising road wins in Week 1; Chicago crushed the rusty Colts, spoiling the debut of Peyton Manning and shiny new Lucas Oil Stadium with a punishing ground game, led by rookie Matt Forte, while Carolina scored a touchdown with no time left on the clock to stun the Super Bowl favorite Chargers.

So the question is, now that neither team can surprise anyone, who will win? I have to go with the home team, because two tough road games to start the season is not conducive to a 2-0 start. As good as Chicago was, they had the advantage of playing a Colts team that was banged up. Look for Carolina to get to 2-0 today.
MY PICK: Panthers 17, Bears 14

3.)Titans (1-0) at Bengals (0-1) 1:00
While Tennessee tries to ease Kerry Collins into the role of savior as Young nurses is knee and psyche back to health, Cincy must erase the memories of a humiliating opening loss to Joe Flacco and the Ravens.

Although the Bengals mustered just 10 points and 154 yards of offense against the stout Baltimore D, I believe Carson Palmer, perhaps inspired by USC's beatdown of Ohio State last night, will come out blazing against the rocky Titans team.
MY PICK: Bengals 27, Titans 20

4.)Steelers (1-0) at Browns (0-1) 8:15 NBC
This bitter old rivalry gets the center stage as the Sunday Night Football game of the week, and for the Browns sake, they better play better than they did in last week's 28-10 embarrassment against the Cowboys. A night game at the Dawg Pound will have the home team fired up, but the Steelers, behind Willie Parker's 138 yards and 3TDs, had no trouble dispatching Texans in Week 1.

Something tells me Cleveland will play much better in this one (how could they play worse?), and if the prime time night game against their bitter steel town foes can't get this team to perform well, nothing will.
MY PICK: Browns 19, Steelers 17

5.) Eagles (1-0) at Cowboys (1-0) 8:15 MNF
Speaking of bitter rivalry games, nothing like a match between these two NFC East teams to spark tension and hatred, right? TOs old team trots into the Stadium riding a 38-3 smackdown of the Rams in Week 1, while the Boys' effortless win over the Browns proved they are the team to beat in the NFC, if not the league.

Look for a good old fashioned dogfight, with neither team willing to back down or let up, and plenty of fireworks, especially if TO scores a touchdown against his old mates. Something tells me he won't mind being fined for the celebration he'll have in store for his ex-BFF, Donovan McNabb.
MY PICK: Cowboys 31, Eagles 28

As always, these are my best guesses, so please don't lay any money on these picks. Enjoy Week 2, and for Pats fans, there's always next year.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

NFL 2008 Kickoff

So I see the last time I posted here was in mid-July. Whoa. Guess I let this one get away from me.

But as the 2008 NFL season is about to get underway I thought I'd better get back to blogging and give my thoughts on what might transpire this year.

Without further ado, here are my five stories to watch for this season and five game to watch this week. No betting info here. It's been long enough since I posted, why alienate the few readers I have left with my piss-poor picks.

Top 5 Stories of the Year:

1.) How will the Pats rebound from 2007?
Since the Patriots failed to complete their perfect season and culminate their undefeated run with another world title, the chant "18-1" has replaced the old familiar Red Sox "1918" refrain as the mocking cry for Boston haters.

Hard to argue with them, too, because coming so close to perfection only to come up short (thanks to a one-in-a-million, miraculous, lucky catch) hurt us pretty badly. But this is a new season, and the Pats have a clean slate and a whole host of issues to overcome in order to make it back to the Bowl.

For starters, Tom Brady missed the entire preseason with a foot injury, so no one is sure how healthy he is and how he will get out of the gate in the opener against Kansas City. he says he's fine, but there's gotta be some rust since he hasn't thrown a meaningful pass since February.

Also the defense has been severely altered in the off season. Stud DB Assante Samuel took the money and ran to Philly, aging LB Junior Seau was not brought back, and a unit that was already pretty old got a year older. Throw in a couple of ugly arrests, the lingering spectre of Spygate, and the hangover effect of falling short in an otherwise stellar season, and all eyes are going to be on New England, especially in the beginning of the year.

2.) Brett the Jet
As you may have heard, Brett Favre went from the Green Bay Packers, where he played in every game since 1992, to the New York J-E-T-S in a ballyhooed unretirement that made headlines throughout the summer.

Now that he has swapped his cheeseheads for the Cosmo crowd, how will the self described redneck adjust to life in the big city, with a new team, new scheme, new coaches, and most important of all, new ugly unis?

I saw somewhere that he has gotten more and more comfortable in the Big Apple as time has passed, but to me that's like saying a wild animal got used to his life in the zoo. They may have adjusted to their new surroundings, but that doesn't mean they are liking it.

Favre will be under the microscope all season, as detractors will be looking to pounce on every misstep and sign of despair and fire off a "he should've stayed retired" story. But don't be surprised if Brett the Jet takes that chip on his shoulder and turns in a playoff berth. Oh, and expect a lot of interceptions, too.

3.)Rookie watch
There was a time when rookies came into the league and carried the clipboard for a few seasons, hoping to get an appearance in an actual game here and there in between playing tackling dummies on the practice squad. But now more than ever rookies are expected to make major impacts on the game and their new teams, which are shelling out big bucks to see their risky draft picks pay immediate dividends on Sunday.

More than a few big time picks have turned into big time busts, putting more pressure on these kids to come out performing like Pro Bowlers right from the get-go.

Some of those candidates who better put up big numbers early this year include RB Darren McFadden, who is expected to give the moribund Raiders a shot in the offensive arm; QB Matt Ryan, who will tackle the monumental task of making Atlantans forget about Mike Vick and a disastrous 2007 season; OT Jake Long, who needs to validate Miami honcho Bill Parcells' decision to lock up the No 1 pick well before the draft; and KC DE Glenn Dorsey, who slipped to #4 due to health and weight issues, then held out for most of camp and comes into the opener already behind the rookie 8 ball.

It's put up or shut up time, guys. You're not in Kansas (or Mizzou or Arkansas) anymore.

4.)How will the Giants follow up their Super season
Many (read: Pats) fans believe that the G-Men's run to the Bowl was a product of getting hot at the right time and having a couple of incredible breaks go their way (yes, we're talking about you, David Tyree). Now with a ring on his finger and Michael Strahan in the TV studio, we get to see how Eli "the other" Manning can produce when his team is the favorite instead of an unexpected underdog.

My guess is that they fall apart like a balsa model in a wind storm, and the loss of Osi Uminyora in the preseason finale will be the beginning of an onslaught of injuries and unfortunate circumstances that combine to fell the soon-to-be former champs. But that's just my unbiased opinion.

5.)New rules for the new year
On the heels of Spygate, defensive players will be allowed to hear signals from the sidelines like the offesnive players have been for years. How all this gabbing in the helmets affects the play on the field has yet to be determined, but something tells me it could do more harm than good. Don't be surprised if in a couple of years, all helmet communications are outlawed anbd we go back to the good old days of plays being brought in from the sidelines.

But the biggest rule chance could be the shoving out of bounds play. No longer will a catch be upheld if an offensive pplayer was forced out by a defender. From now on, if you don't come down in bounds, it's not a catch. This could be one of the single biggest rule changes to come along in years, and after a number of receptions and TDs are taken away, I think players and coaches are going to clamor for this rule to be revoked next year.

Top 5 Games to watch, Week 1
-NY Jets at Miami Dolphins

This one has more story lines than a David Lynch film. Not only do you have the Favre in Gang Green headliner, but the Big Tuna is calling the shots for the Fins against one of his old teams in hopes of resurrecting the once proud franchise, and the new QB for Parcells happens to be the old Jets signal caller, Chad Pennington. Intrigue and interest abound in this grudge match between two clubs that hope to compete with the Pats for AFC East supremacy.

-Detroit at Atlanta
The debut of Ryan will be highly anticipated and scrutinized by people who are curious to see if handing the reigns of a franchise over to a kid who was in college just a few months ago is a good idea. I say how can it be worse than allowing a freak of a quarterback who smoked week and killed dogs to run the franchise into the ground? Not only will Ryan be under the microscope, but Detroit, which had high expectations last year, is trying to get to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and will rely on rookie RB Kevin Smith to lead them there.

-Dallas @ Cleveland
Definitely one of the more intriguing match ups of Week 1, as the sideshow of T.O., Romo and PacMan travel to the Dawg Pound to battle the feisty Browns. While all eyes will be on Jessica Simpson's fuck buddy and the return of Adam Jones to the NFL after a 1-year hiatus, the Browns, with an explosive offense and solid defense, could surprise the stars of HBO's Hard Knocks by applying a hard knock of their own.

-Kansas City at New England
The Chiefs are predicted to be one of the worst teams in the league, while the Pats nearly went undefeated last season. On paper this one looks like a mismatch of epic proportions, which is backed up by the two touchdown spread. But with Brady shaking off the rust, the defense adjusting to life without Samuel and Seau, and one crummy team always surprising the league, this one could be close than the experts expect.

Put it this way, if the Pats don't win big, or God forbid lose, it's gonna be a long week in the Commonwealth.

-Minnesota at Green Bay Monday Night
This was supposed to be the night that the Packers retired Brett Favre's jersey before the game against the arch rival Vikings. Now it's a curious contest that will be remembered as the first game someone other than Favre starts under center for the Pack since 1992. The Vikes, with stud RB Adrian Peterson entering his second season, have a golden opportunity to steal a win on the not-yet-frozen tundra, and if Favre's replacement Aaron Rodgers doesn't wow the crowds, expect the chants of "we want Brett" to rain down from the rafter of Lambeau Field.

Enjoy Week 1, and I promise I will be back here on a weekly basis from now on (no, my fingers aren't crossed).


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

MLB Mid Season Report and other misc. items

I know, I know, because of my many other endeavors, I've been shirking my duties here at the place it all started for me, TBB.

Shame on me for neglecting my roots.

But with the All Star break upon us I've got a little break in the blogging action, so I wanted to take this time to catch up on things here on my original site.

First of all I want to report that my new nephew, Luke Franklin Starke, who turns three months old today, has turned out to be a very healthy and happy baby boy, despite the fact that he lives in New York.

But as you can tell from this photo, he is clearly being raised the right way:

Good job, Sis (and Nana)!

The second item I need to address is the fact that my talented brother-in-law, Paul Starke, was rewarded for producing such a terrific son by receiving an Emmy for the show he produces/writes for, The Tyra Banks Show.

At the Daytime Emmy Awards last month, the Tyra show was named Best Talk Show-Informative, and Paul was right up on stage when Tyra accepted the statue. Click the link to see a video of the moment (Paul is directly to the left of Tyra, right at the bottom of her hair extensions).

Kudos and congrats to my sister and her hubby for the awesome additions to their lives, and just want you guys to know how proud I am of you both.

Okay, now that the sappy family sentimentality is out of the way, it's time to get back to business. And since my business lately has been baseball, that's what I'm gonna cover now.

If you remember back when I was posting original content here I did a 2008 baseball preview piece. In it I predicted all the division and playoff winners, as well as the major award winners in each league.

Well, like any good blogger worth his salt, I'm back to recap my picks, ready to rip myself for all my silly mistakes and break my arm patting myself on the back for all my correct calls.

So if you're interested, keep reading. if not, please be sure to check out my stuff on the other sites.

First thing I did was ask a few pertinent questions related to the upcoming season. Here are the questions, and my then my answers:

Will the Red Sox repeat?
They're in first place despite injuries and inconsistency, so I'm saying yes

Will the Rays finally reach .500 now that they've exorcised the Devil?
Ah, they're not only 16 games over .500, but they've spent a good deal of the half in 1st place

Will Barry Bonds remain an unemployed pariah all season?
So far, yes, and according to this recent article on, the answer is a definite yes

Can the Tigers score 1000 runs with their modern day version of Murderer's Row?
They may score 1000 (they have 449 now), but they've been the biggest disappointment this season

How long before the Brewers regret giving Eric Gagme $10 million bucks (over/under is about 3 games)?
The answer to that is about one month, as Gagme blew 4 saves in the first 3 weeks of the season, then spent the month of June on the DL

Next I predicted the division winners, wild cards, surprising and disappointing teams from each league. Actual leaders in red

American League:
East: Sox Sox
Central: Tigers White Sox
West: Angels Angels
Wild Card: Indians Rays
Surprise: Rays Rays
Dis'pointment: Jays Jays/Tigers

Well I got 4 out of 6 right, so that's not bad. The Sox and Angels lead their divisions, and the Rays have been the surprise of the league by far. The Jays are a major disappointment, but how hard was that to predict - it happens every year!

The Indians, well they are a bigger bust than the Jays, boasting the second worst record in the AL after a four game sweep of the Rays, and Detroit, well I already mentioned them, but they have come on lately and still could win the weak Central.

National League:
East: Mets Phillies
Central: Cubs Cubs
West: Dodgers D-Backs
Wild Card: Padres Cardinals
Surprise: Nationals Cardinals
Dis'pointment: Phillies Padres

Not such a good job with the senior circuit, as I only got one of these right. The Cubs have been the best team in the majors for most of the season, and the Mets are hot now (winning 9 straight), but it took a putrid start and the canning of their manager to light a fire under their underachieving asses.

The Dodgers are one game back in the awful West, so they could take that sorry division, but the Phils have been in first almost all season and the Pads and Nats are the two worst teams in the league. Oops.

Oh well. NEXT!

My award winners are about as spot on as my playoff predictions.

American League:
MVP: Manny Ramirez Josh Hamilton
Cy Young: Josh Beckett Cliff Lee
Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria Longo

Tracking for 2 of 3 on this as Manny has heated up again after a long dry spell, but still has the numbers (.293/18/60) and capability of winning this award. And Longoria, an All Star and HR Derby participant, is a near lock for the Rookie trophy.

Josh Beckett - chalk that up to wishful thinking.

National League:
MVP: Jose Reyes Lance Berkman
Cy Young: Johan Santana Tim Lincecum
ROY: Kosuke Fukodome Fuko

One out of three here, as Fuko is primed to be the Rookie of the Year. But Reyes has been inconsistent and had run ins with managers and announcers, and Santana is sitting at 8-7 and has been victimized by poor run support.

Now that that's out of the way, I'm going to wipe the slate clean, exercise my bloggers license and give you my mid-season picks.

American League:
East: Sox who'd you think I'd say?
Central: Tigers still can't count out that offense
West: Angels no one comes close
WC: Rays another parade for the Bay area?
MVP: Hamilton if he keeps up this pace (21HR, 95BI), he's a lock
Cy Young: Roy Halladay just can't see Lee or Saunders winning this
ROY: Longoria no-brainer

National League:
East: Mets coming on strong now
Central: Cubs been there all year
West: Dodgers 1GB and better pitching than Arizona
WC: Brewers addition of Sabathia gets 'em over the hump
MVP: Chase Utley if Phils make playoffs, he's in
Cy Young: Edinson Volquez win-win in trade for Hamilton
ROY: Fuko even though he's not a true rookie

Keep in mind that my pick of a Boston/Cubs World Series is still looking pretty solid, so I got that going for me.

Alright, I'm spent now. Hope this gets me up to date.

If I have time tomorrow, I'll recap tonight's Mid Summer Classic and give you my top stories of the first half.

Enjoy the All Star Game.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

In case you've been looking for me...'s what I've been doing:

Bugs and Cranks

Juiced Sports Blog

Curt's Bloody Sock

Thank you all for continuing to follow me and please visit these other sites as often as you can.

J Rose


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Schilling for the Hall of Fame?

Click title link for my full post on Juiced Sports Blog


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Looking for me?

Just in case you guys are wondering why there haven't been many posts here lately it's because I have been busy writing elsewhere.

My main focus during the baseball season is my Red Sox blog, Curt's Bloody Sock, which keeps me pretty busy since there are games nearly every day for 6 months (except today, which is why I am taking the time to tell you guys where I've been).

Recently I have been asked to contribute to a national sports site called Juiced Sports Blog. I provide a Boston perspective to counter the inane ramblings of one Colin Linneweber, who is a New York honk, so it's gonna be a lot of fun.

I will continue to post here periodically, but please frequent these other sites and feel free to comment and/or provide feedback to let me know how I'm doing.

Thanks for all your support and feedback.

J Rose


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Celtics complete miraculous turnaround with title #17

With their 131-92 rout of the Lakers Boston's Big three secured their place in history by bringing the NBA championship trophy back to Beantown.





All of these terms can be used to describe the incredible fraud that is the 2008 Los Angeles Lakers team, a club that was singing "kumbaya" coming into the postseason and fooled all the pundits, like my clueless colleague Colin, into thinking it was an unstoppable, united force by breezing through the first three rounds of the playoffs en route to a surefire coronation as the best team in the land.

And then they met up with the real best team in the league: the Boston Celtics, version 2.0.

By now everyone knows the story. The Cs finished with the worst record in the NBA last season (24-58), missed out on a chance to get the number one pick in the draft (again), and then Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge engineered deals for sharpshooter Ray Allen and defensive force Kevin Garnett, who along with team captain Paul Pierce combined to form the nexus of what would be the Celts' first title-winning team in 21 years.

Nearly one year later the transformation is complete. The Celtics had the best record in the league this year at 66-26, the best road record, the best record against the "tougher" Western Conference, the Defensive Player of the Year (KG), Executive of the Year (Ainge), and they just set a slew of playoff marks en route to capturing banner #17, the most in the history of the league.

Did I forget to mention their Finals record of 9-2 against the Fakers? Sorry.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the Finals against the heavily favored Lakers on the strength of the stifling defense that had been the hallmark of the team all season and Paul Pierce's gutty play, Boston traveled to the left coast for the dreaded three middle games of Red Auerbach's designed 2-3-2 format.

With a nearly unblemished home record in the postseason all the Cs needed to do was win one at the Staples Center, where the disinterested fans are measured by their 'Q' rating rather than basketball knowledge, and the title was all but assured.

By taking Game 4 in stunning fashion, winning 97-91 after rallying from 24 points down to stun the team and the few true fans in the biggest comeback in Finals history, the championship was basically guaranteed to be clad in green.

After a near-miss on Father's Day in Game 5, the teams traveled back East so the Celts could win it in style - in front of a rabid home crowd of Boston fans that hadn't seen a championship clinched in the city since Bird's Celts in 1986.

One epic, embarrassing, record-breaking, foundation-shaking beatdown later, all that was left was the crying. Pierce, who scored less and passed more in the clincher, was named Finals MVP, and another unsung hero, point guard Rajon Rondo, carried the load for a team that seemed to have a different guy step up every game to take the burden off the Big Three's shoulders.

There were tears of joy for Garnett, Pierce and Allen, who shook off years of toiling in mediocrity by cementing their legacies as champs, and coach Doc Rivers, who has been criticized and vilified for his lack of in-game skills and inability to juggle a roster, became a championship-winning coach.

And there were tears of sadness from league MVP Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, a team that was supposed to be the best in the league but turned out to be a bunch of purple-clad posers.

In the end they were decimated by a Green Machine that shut down the MVP and chewed up and spit out the rest of the role players like a piece of sour candy, and when the dust settled Bryant walked off the court knowing his legacy remains tarnished as he has yet to win a title without a certain behemoth center rattling the rim next to him.

The Celtics won title #17 on June 17th while legendary C's players like Bill Russell, Jo Jo White, Tommy Heinsohn and #17, John 'Hondo' Havlickek, looked on.

As the team and fans mobbed center court to celebrate the win, confetti falling everywhere and "We Are the Champions" blaring from the Garden sound system, Garnett embraced his mentor Russell and shouted in his ear "I got mine" in reference to the ring that Russ offered to share with him if he didn't win one himself.

Yup, the 2007-2008 Celts all got theirs.

And the fans of Boston sports got theirs, too - yet another major sports championship.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Boston = Titletown USA

As the Celtics prepare to take on the Lakers in the NBA Finals, there can be no doubt as to what is the greatest sports city in America now.

This sight from the Red Sox ring ceremony, featuring the Boston trophies from all four major sports, sums it all up

Every summer ESPN, the worldwide leader in aggravating product placement and overbearing, lowest common denominator programming, runs a series of special promos designed to fill the time when baseball is the only active major sport.

A few years ago it was the inane "50 States in 50 Days", then it was the sophomoric "Who's Next?", followed by the equally moronic "Who's Now?"; many presumed this summer's installment would be "Who the F- Cares?"

Instead this year the geniuses at the WWL have come up with a different country-unifying gimmick called "Titletown USA", in which the nation votes on what city or town it thinks is the best in all the land. Twenty municipalities will make the final list, and potential winners include sports hotbeds like Shelby, North Carolina, Boise, Idaho and Ottawa, Ohio.

Well don't bother voting people because after the Boston Celtics defeated the Detroit Pistons in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals Friday night, I am hereby declaring the contest officially over.

With the 89-81 victory the Cs made it back to the finals for the first time since 1987 when Larry, Kevin and the Chief, the original Big Three, ruled the parquet at the original Gahden and played in their fourth championship of the decade.

And when you combine this stellar rebound season of the Cs with the 3 championships the Pats have earned this decade plus the two World Series titles the Sox have won in the past four years, there is no doubt that the city of Boston, located in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the heart of New England, is indeed the Hub of the Sports Universe.

When Boston and LA tip off the 2008 Finals this Thursday night it will evoke a flood of memories in native New Englanders over the age of 25 like myself, who grew up in an era when all the Boston sports teams were at or near the top of the heap.

Along with the four title appearances and three championships the Celts won in the 80s the Sox went to the World Series in 1986 and made the playoffs in 1988 and 1990, the Bruins made the playoffs every year and went to the Stanley Cup Finals twice (88 & 90 also), and the Pats, although they had some rough seasons, still made the playoffs three times in the decade and played in one memorable (i.e. forgettable) Super Bowl in 1986.

In other words for Bostonian sports fans it was the "me" decade, when all of our franchises ruled the Earth, a happy, carefree time we all took for granted because we didn't know any better.

Until the 90s came.

In that decade we all began to realize that sporting success could be as fleeting as an American idol winner's career as none of the major teams made any waves in the postseason:

-In 1996 the Bs began a stretch of missing the playoffs in 6 of the next 10 seasons

-the Pats made the playoffs just three times and got spanked in another Super Bowl before ending the decade with a 1-15 debacle season

-the Sox sucked so bad that even though they made the playoffs three times they lost to the Cleveland Indians every time, a fact that pissed them off so bad they had to go and get Manny Ramirez just to exact some sort of revenge on the Tribe

-and the Celts began their downward spiral when the lost the Big Three to age and injury (Larry in '92, Kevin in '93 and Chief in '94), and the death of superstar-in- the-making Reggie Lewis to a fatal heart condition in 1993 sent the franchise into a tailspin that had continued up till this very season.

But now it's a new millennium, and so far the Boston boys are back and better than ever. Well, except for the Bs, but their time will come.

Two titles for the Sox obliterated an 86-year-old curse, three rings for Tom Brady cemented him as a legend and Hall of Famer despite his weaselly coach, and now Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the rest of the gang Green are letting us hop into our IROC Z and party like it's 1987.

So get out your Member's Only jacket, crank up your Whitesnake cassette , pop a copy of Fatal Attraction in the VCR and enjoy the ride.

Because Boston is officially Titletown again, whether the rest of the nation likes it or not.

Sorry, Shelby.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Movie Review: Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau create a modern-day marvel that trumps all the other recent comic book heroes

I believe I can fly; whether by car, plane, or space-age superhero suit, Robert Downey Jr does indeed soar as Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man

Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr, Gweneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Rated: PG-13 for violence, adult language and adult themes
Running Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

What does the war in Iraq, a comic book legend, a former '80s star turned drug-addled has-been and a guy best known for making one of the most hilarious post-date phone calls in cinematic history have in common?

They all combine to form one of the best comic book big screen adaptations ever as Iron Man not only delivers as an action packed summer blockbuster but succeeds in doing something none of its predecessors has done before it - humanizing the main character.

And make no mistake about it the driving force behind this flick, directed by Jon Favreau, the actor (Swingers; Made) turned director (Elf; Zathura), is the main character.

Not Iron Man, but Robert Downey Jr.

Downey rose to fame with his ground breaking performance as a drug addict in Less Than Zero and then fell victim to life imitating art as his own troubles with substance abuse derailed his career and led to stints in jail and rehab.

But he carries this film as Tony Stark, a millionaire arms inventor who undergoes a crisis of conscious after being captured by rebels in Afghanistan.

To say Stark (and Downey) is not your typical action superhero would be akin to saying Paris Hilton likes media attention.

Like Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne Stark is a rich industrialist, but unlike Wayne Stark lives life to the extreme by bedding various women, blowing off appointments scheduled by his trusty assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow), driving very fast in his Audi R8, and drinking scotch every chance he gets.

In other words he's just like we would all be if we were millionaires.

While he is drinking and driving (as a passenger in a 'fun-Vee') in the Afghan desert his convoy is attacked by terrorists, using his own weaponry no less, and Stark is taken prisoner by a group demanding that he build a version of his latest super missile system for them.

Every one knows the engineering genius is going to blast his way out of there, but of course there's a catch: Stark has shrapnel embedded in his body that would make a bee line for his heart if not for a magnetic device embedded in his chest, placed there by a friendly fellow captive, Yinsen.

What those of us not addicted to comics don't know is that not only does Stark blast his way out, he uses a crudely constructed metal suit to do his dirty work by blasting through his captors with an array of weapons, including a gnarly flamethrower, before escaping on the propulsion system intended for the rockets.

Thus a superhero is born.

Freed from his near death experience and disgusted by the knowledge that his weapons are not just being used to protect his country (evidently he's a bit naive, too), Tony decides to take Stark Enterprises in kinder, gentler direction, hoping to develop a larger version of the mini-reactor that allows him to live to provide an alternate power source for mass consumption.

Not so fast, metal man.

Stark's business partner and former confidante to his father, Obadiah Stane (a nearly unrecognizable and thoroughly menacing Bridges) doesn't quite agree with Tony's new agenda, especially since he's the one supplying the terrorists with Stark's weaponry, and Stane quickly moves to have Stark removed by the company's board before he ruins all the fun.

For us that's when the fun starts.

Stark sets to work on the technologically advanced version of his metal suit, which is when we get to witness the cool gadgets that line his workshop, not the least of which is his collection of exotic cars, as well as the complex boss-aide relationship he and Potts enjoy.

The rest of the movie is mostly by-the-books superhero stuff: with the iconic suit under his control Stark/Iron Man attempts to avenge his capture and defeat his new arch enemy Stane, who has now transformed into the mega machine Iron Monger, all while providing plenty of laughs with a little romance on the side.

Downey juggles all of these tasks with aplomb, switching from lothario to lovesick with ease while eradicating the bad guys without spilling his beloved scotch. He is at once simple and complex, predictable and erratic, loathsome and lovable.

However the one thing he never is is boring.

Be sure to stick around past the closing credits to get a sneak peak at what the future holds for Mr. Stark and this franchise-in-the making.

What you didn't think there'd be a sequel?

Mr Downey's magnetic performance made sure of that.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Celtics and Cavs stage an NBA playoff game for the ages

Yesterday's Celtics/Cavs Game 7, which featured a memorable mano-a-mano shootout between Paul Pierce and LeBron James, hearkened back to the glory days of the NBA.

As I sat on my couch watching Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals, witnessing a spectacular battle between All Stars Paul Pierce and LeBron James, I told my son the game reminded me of one of the epic playoff confrontations I grew up watching, like Bird & Dominique, Bird & Magic or Bird & Jordan.

Now, thanks to the Truth and the King, he will have his own playoff classic to recount from his childhood to his kids.

The Celtics defeated James' Cavaliers, 97-92, yesterday at the new Garden, which sounded awfully similar to the old Gahden, especially when the traditional Hub chant of "BULLSHIT!" echoed through the building and the surround sound after a few questionable calls late in the game, and earned the right to take on the Detroit Pistons in the Conference Finals starting Tuesday.

But this game will not be remembered for that, nor for the final score, nor for the sight of Tom Brady wearing a San Francisco Giants hat courtside.

No this one will be remembered for two men bringing the NBA back to relevance, for rekindling the fire in old school basketball fans' bellies by melding memories of immortal league legends with feats of present day superstars to create an everlasting image of how great NBA playoff basketball can be.

For four quarters Sunday afternoon James and Pierce played a full court version of "tag, you're it", each scoring at will early and often while challenging each other to match one big shot for another as they took their teams, fans and a nation of enthralled viewers along for the ride.

LeBron wound up with 45 points on 14-29 shooting including 15 in the final frame, and Pierce ended up scoring 41, 17 of those coming in the second quarter when Boston built a double digit lead, only to see it dwindle down to a single basket thanks to James' heroics.

At one point late in the game, after a pair of Bron treys cut the Boston lead to three points, Pierce stood at the free throw line with the outcome still in the balance and his stat sheet sitting at 39 points. As he shot the first freebie the ball hit the back of the rim and bounced straight up in what appeared to be a late game brick from a tired player.

But miraculously the ball plopped straight back down and through the net, ringing 4-0on Pierce's point register and ensuring the Celts were going to pull this one out.

As a nervous smile spread across a relieved Pierce's face, the rest of the NBA fans smiled as well.
In a series that had been about as painful to watch as an episode of Cashmere Mafia, the duo not only revitalized the semifinals but may have possibly brought the sport of NBA basketball back from the abyss.

With the recent infusion of entitled youngsters, gigantic guaranteed salaries and a business-first mentality that has permeated the Association in the past decade, not to mention a crushing referee betting scandal, the league has taken numerous hits of late, both PR and fan interest-wise.

Sure there have been some memorable postseason games played the last few years. The Suns and Lakers have been involved in a few, Dallas and Golden State Game 7 last year was epic, and the Spurs have had a couple of gems during their run of dominance this decade.

But not since the 80s have we seen a truly memorable scoring duel between two NBA superstars in a crucial Game 7, and rightfully so this one is being called the greatest series-deciding duel since Bird and Dominique Wilkins in 1987.

In that game Larry Legend was, well, legendary, dropping in shots from all over the court en route to a monster 20-point 4th quarter and 34 point night. But as good as Legend was 'Nique was even better, pouring in 47 points on a barrage of layups, jumpers and rim-rattling dunks, but his Hawks ultimately lost to my Cs 118-116 in a game that has been called one of the greatest game 7s of all time.

Until now.

I'm not suggesting yesterday's game, which had enough suspense, thrills and jaw-dropping moments to qualify as a summer theatrical blockbuster , was better than that one.

But I am saying that thanks to the efforts of two special players, the torch has finally been passed from one generation to the next.

"We both tried to will our team to victory and, just like Dominique Wilkins, I ended up on the short end and the Celtics won again," James said. "I think the second round of the postseason, Game 7, these fans will finally have an opportunity to forget a little bit about what Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins did and remember what Paul and LeBron did. This will go down in history."

Amen, King James.

Thankfully, we were all witnesses.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's good to be the (Little League) kings

My son's Little League team won the district championship this weekend, and it was one of the most memorable, enjoyable, and special moments in my life.

Something tells me my son's first home run ball is going to be by his side for the next few years or so.

Forget about the Sox winning it all in 2004 for the first time since 1918.

Or the Pats bringing the first championship to the city of Boston since 1986 when they won their first Super Bowl in 2001.

And even the three titles I watched the Celtics win in the '80s growing up as a teen in Beantown can't compare to the feeling of watching your son's Little League team win a championship, especially when he was such a valuable part of taking home the trophy (well, actually they only gave out medals.)

Yes it was a wonderful weekend for the TBB family as our team, the GLLL Braves, won six straight games over three days to bring the District 12 Red Division title home to our league.

And it wasn't just the winning of the games but how we won them that was so exciting. If you'll allow me a few paragraphs of self-indulgence, I will relate what transpired on this magical weekend.

The first game was Friday night at 8:00, and we had no idea how we we're going to fare against teams we had never seen. We are the 2nd best team in our 5 team league right now, but this was our first trip outside the cozy confines of our home fields to play a foreign club.

And the first game was a tight one, scoreless for the first three innings before we pushed a run across in the fourth to take a slim 1-0 lead into the final two frames

Then in the 5th one of our kids, Cameron, slammed a guided missile shot over the short (distance-wise) but high outfield fence for our first outside-the-park homer run of the season, and that blast opened the floodgates and propelled us to a 14-1 win.

Saturday we had two games, and the first one was a rather uneventful 5-0 win. So we sat at 2-0 and had outscored our opponents 19-1, a good stat since the top 8 teams in the division advanced and lowest runs allowed counted as a tiebreaker for teams with identical records.

So far, so good.

Game 3 was when things started to get crazy.

After taking another 1-0 lead, the other team jumped out to an 8-1 advantage. These being emotional 10, 11 and 12-year olds who had already begun to get a feeling that they couldn't lose, let alone trail, in a game, the feelings of invincibility turned to insecurity and doubt in the blink of an eye.

Dirt kicking, finger-pointing and a cloud of doom and despair prevailed when they came back to the dugout, prompting me to go into my best Knute Rockne-esque speech in order to fire up the troops and remind them that the game was far from over.

Little did I know how right I'd be. Or that they would actually listen to what I was saying.

Soon enough we had clawed our way back in it, scoring a pair to bring the score to 8-3 and then striking for a five-spot the next inning, the capper being a 2-run homer by my son, Drew, that tried the game at 8 and sent the team- and the crowd and myself- into a frenzy.

It was his first "real" home run at any level, and talk about an opportune time for it.

The game got wilder from there as we took a 9-8 lead, they took a 10-9 lead with a monster blast from their big bopper, we tied it at 10, and then we exploded for 12 runs in the 6th to open up a 21-10 lead.

When the dust settled we won 21-16. We were 3-0 and had outscored our opponents 40-17, and had made it to the quarters as the 4 seed. We had to travel 45 minutes to the site for our first game at noon on Sunday, but it was well worth the trip, gas prices be damned.

In the single-elimination round we won our first game 7-5, another back-and-forth affair that the comeback kids pulled out with another big inning late. Now their confidence was growing and they finally had the feeling that it wasn't over till it was over, regardless of the score.

In game 2, the semi-final, we took on the top seed of the division and fell behind again, only to explode for another huge inning in which we batted around nearly three times and won going away, 21-8.

And it was on to the championship game.

Let me frame the drama of the title bout by stating a few facts of what we we're up against:

-the opponent was the home town team. They hadn't lost a game all year (16-0), wore exactly matching black & silver uniforms, had five huge kids who were heading to the next level and used $400 bats

-the coaches wore khaki shorts and Tommy Bahama shirts, eschewing the traditional, you know, team uniform shirt. Not cool enough.

-their fans lined the sideline all the way to the street, standing and hollering from the outset.

-the team, led by King Tommy Bahama, led an Under Armor-esque chant about this being their house before the first pitch.
And then they went and scored two runs in the 1st inning, including a solo shot by the first batter that appeared to be foul but was called fair by the clueless ump.

Home town call, indeed.

But this is where the Disney part of the story kicks in. Instead of getting down, our kids shrugged it off and ended up registering another 5-run inning to take a 5-2 lead, the first blow being a 2-run single by Drew that said we would not go quietly in this game, DeMarinis and country club outfits be damned.

After a tense couple of innings in which Drew pitched a scoreless pair thanks to some great defense, they scored a single run to slice the lead to 5-3, setting up the final inning dramatic theatrics.

Needing three outs for the championship our team fell apart like a run down Chevy. Two missed fly balls set up a 2-on, 1-out situation, and then one of their big guns launched a blast over the fence for a 3-run homer that gave them a 6-5 lead that seemingly crushed the spirits of our kids, who had fought so long and hard to get to that point, only to see it all go up in smoke in the blink of an eye.

Or so it seemed.

Perhaps we had one more rally left in us.

Maybe we could beat the odds, as well as this cocksure bunch of country clubbers and prima donna sluggers.

Miraculously, we did.

A leadoff double and then a huge 2-out, 2-strike hit by our own Lil Papi, Chad, tied the game at 6 in the bottom of the 6th, and that sent the championship game into a Texas tiebreaker, or sudden death, finale.

After one scoreless frame, we got another chance and capitalized, as the bottom of our lineup came through again when Paul singled in the winning run that won the title, and suddenly the home town team looked dazed and confused, wondering how this 'little team that could' had just come into their house and stole their title.

And that wrapped up the greatest weekend of my sporting life. It's a weekend I, nor the kids, parents and other coaches, will ever forget, one that makes you realize that big time sports pales in comparison to seeing young kids laugh and cry, live and die by the goings on at a Little League ballfield.

It is sports at it's purest, and its finest, and I was just glad to be a part of something as special as this. Congrats to Ryan, Tanner, Andy, Cameron, Angel, Brandon, Dylan N., Chad, Drew, Paul, Dylan A. and Luis, the 2008 GLLL Majors Braves, and thanks for the memories.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Call me the 40-Year-Old Uncle

Welcome to motherhood, Sis.
Sincerely, Uncle Jeff

My sister Melissa and her hubby Paul welcomed little Luke Franklin Starke into the world on Tax Day, ironically just around the time Jason Varitek hit a game-winning homer for the Sox (coincidence? I think not), making me an uncle for the very first time at the tender age of 40.

Not that this is an exceptionally unusual occurrence, but the funny thing about it is that my 11-year-old son has been an uncle for almost three years now, giving him a considerable head start in the uncle biz over his old man.

But like I always say, better late than never, and with that in mind I am quite proud to join the club that includes these notable participants:

-Uncle Buck
-Uncle Cracker
-Uncle Miltie
-Uncle Sam
-Uncle Albert
-The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

-Uncle Fester
-Uncle Ben

-Uncle Tony (shout out!)

but not including a monkey's uncle.

Because my cute new nephew looks nothing like a monkey.

Although I'm not so sure his uncle doesn't!

Congrats Meliss and Paul. I love you both, and all I can say is...



Sunday, April 13, 2008

It's the new Rays of Tampa Bay

New unis, new colors, new players and a new vibe in downtown St. Pete

So the fam and I went to the Rays game today for my son's Little League day at the Trop, and what I saw was a lot of exciting new changes and very little of the same old, same old Devil Rays attitude that permeated the last decade+ at the giant concrete cylinder in St. Pete.

The first thing you notice when you walk up the antiquated tile walkway that leads to the rotunda is the new mural that adorns the front of the building. Bright and colorful and bursting with that Ray of light, it beckons like a giant welcome sign pleading with fans to come see what's inside.

Trouble is once you step inside you are quickly reminded that the Dome is still the Dome, no matter how much paint you slap on the place, and it's a grim reminder that baseball was meant to be played outdoors, not inside a giant air-conditioned grain silo.

And suddenly the irony of the Rays utilizing a sunburst logo becomes amusingly obvious.

Until you look around the place and see all the signs, artists renderings and videos touting the proposed new waterfront stadium the Rays brass has been pushing for the past several months, and then it becomes apparent that the logo is a not-so- subliminal hint that yes, one day this team will live to play in the light of day.

If the team can get $400 million dollars from the taxpayers for an outdoor stadium that will expose the team and its patrons to the uncomfortable midsummer conditions of South Florida.

And suddenly the silo doesn't seem so bad.

As far as the team goes, as soon as you look at the starting lineup you are reminded that the changes have not just been cosmetic ones. The starter on the day is highly-touted 2004 draft pick Jeff Niemann, a long (6'9") lanky right hander who the team hopes will be one of the cornerstones of a young stud rotation, along with Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza and fellow hot prospect David Price.

On the field the lineup is as good as many teams in the league: All Star Carl Crawford mans left; future All Star BJ Upton, who blasted a key homer in this game, covers a ton of ground in center; and they have a couple of terrific corner infielders - 2007 MVP candidate Carlos Pena, who has already slammed 6 homers after hitting 46 last year, and potential 2008 Rookie of the Year winner Evan Longoria, who was just brought back from the minors after a controversial late spring demotion, looks like a franchise player at third.

The problem with the Rays is the same one that has been plaguing the team for the last decade: pitching. Most of the staff is too young (see above mentioned starters, plus Jason Hammel and Andy Sonnanstine), too old (setup man and taser target Al Reyes and closer Troy Percival, whose arm could fall off at any time), or just plain mediocre (all the rest.)

And therein lies the problem of why this team will be better, but not nearly good enough to contend for a playoff spot for a few years. They desperately needed to acquire a decent veteran arm to anchor the young staff and provide experience in the battles against the top tier clubs, especially now with 2007 strikeout king Kazmir shelved with arm troubles.

And until they do, plus upgrade the bullpen from the current collection of has beens and never was', this team will be exciting, teasing and sometimes pleasing, but not good enough to take it to the next level.

So its okay to buy the new color gear (which fans are doing in droves), get on board the bandwagon early, support the young studs and watch the team grow from a cellar-dwelling laughingstock to an up-and-coming contender.

Just don't expect it to happen overnight.

Maybe by the time they get into that new stadium.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Super Mario leads Jayhawks to stunning win over Memphis

Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT)
Title Game MVPs
KAN-Mario Chalmers 18 pts, 4 steals
MEM-Derrick Rose 18 pts, 8 rebs
Final 4 MOP: Mario Chalmers

Chalmers' shining moment will be replayed till the end of time

God I love being right.

Did I or did I not say the two players to watch in this game would be Derrick Rose for Memphis and Mario Chalmers for Kansas?

Answer: yes and yes.

And didn't I predict in my preview post that, and I quote myself "this matchup could provide one of the most entertaining, exciting and electrifying finals in NCAA history"?

Right again.

Throw in the fact that I advised the basketball fan that the two teams playing for the title would be so evenly matched because they play the same style of ball that it would end up being a game worth watching regardless of team affiliation, and what you have is a major league case of 'I told you so' right here.

What's that? I can't hear you, what?

Oh, you say I picked Memphis to win the game?

Always a fucking smartass in every bunch.

So maybe I did call everything but the outcome of the 2008 championship game, at least I was right about the most important facet of all and that's the fact that the game will go down as one of the greatest title games in college basketball history.

(the preceeding statement was for non-gamblers only. If you lost any money on the outcome or had Memphis in your office pool, then disregard.)

After a back-and-forth affair for 3/4 of the game, Memphis seemingly had the game won when it took a 9-point lead with just over 2:00 to play. Trailing by 5 at halftime, John Calipari's club used a 25-14 run to pull ahead by 5 with 5:00 left in the game. The run was fueled by freshman sensation Rose, who had just 3 points at halftime but exploded for 15 in the 2nd half, including an incredible stretch where he scored 14 of Memphis' 16 points.

But it was a seemingly innocuous call on an apparent Rose three-point bank shot that made the score 56-49 with just over 4:00 to play that ended up coming back to haunt the Tigers just minutes later.

The refs huddled and ruled the trey was actually a deuce, but with Memphis on the verge of putting this one in the books it looked as if the removal of a point would have no effect on the outcome of the game.

Oh how wrong that assertion would be.

Shortly after taking the 9 point lead, 60-51, Kansas went into full foul mode to try and stop the clock and get back in the game, a strategy that is usually as maddening as it is ineffective.

Except this time the Tigers, who were 3rd from the bottom in FT shooting during the season but a respectable 75% in the tourney, made the Jayhawks' plan pay off. Memphis inexplicably reverted back to a team of Shaqs at the line as stars Chris Douglas-Roberts (game-high 22 pts) missed three in a row and Rose missed one, and with Kansas hitting a couple of key threes and frees of their own, suddenly the 9-point bulge was down to a mere three with :10 seconds to go.

Enter my pick to click, Chalmers.

The feisty guard had already had a whale of a game with 13 points and 4 picks in the game, including 3 steals in the first half, most of them off Rose, but little did anyone know that he was about to enter the annals of college basketball history.

With Calipari choosing not to call a timeout, Sherron Collins took the ball upcourt and for some reason wasn't fouled, and after he handed it off to Chalmers at the top of the circle, Rose chose not to foul him either. It turned out to be a costly mistake as Chalmers calmly elevated over Rose and dropped a straight away three through the net to tie the game, stunning the Memphis squad and fans, so much so that Calipari AGAIN forgot to call a timeout with 2.1 seconds left to set up a last shot.

Instead Robert Dozier's desperation heave at the buzzer fell shy, and Kansas went on to destroy the shell-shocked Tigers in the OT, outscoring them 12-5 to win the 3rd title in Jayhawks history and first in 20 years, since the memorable Danny & The Miracles squad of 1988.

Ironic that it took a miraculous shot, and one hell of a terrific game, for the Kansas to be able to cut the nets down again.


Monday, April 07, 2008

2008 NCAA Championship Game Preview

Kansas Jayhawks (36-3) vs. Memphis Tigers (38-1)
9:00P EST San Antonio, CBS HD
Line: Memphis -2

This is it. A long, exciting, topsy-turvy 2007-2008 NCAA season will come to an end tonight when the Memphis Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks tip the basketball off for the final time this year.

Just like you predicted in your office pool, right?

These two clubs may be a couple of party crashers, silencing doubters while laying waste to quality opponents en route to this title tilt, but that doesn't mean they aren't the two teams most deserving to be here. Nor does it mean that they won't put on a more watchable championship battle than any of the other teams that were picked to be here by the majority of the media and the masses.

(ahem, this means you, UNC and UCLA)

In fact I'll go out on a limb and say that this matchup could provide one of the most entertaining, exciting and electrifying finals in NCAA history, and I'm not a fan of either school.

What I am a fan of is up & down basketball. Teams that cover both ends of the court like a blanket snowfall. Kids that can either rock the rim with a jam or drop a teardrop jay with ease. Athletes that can swat a shot or inhale a rebound, steal an inbounds pass or take a charge with equal parts style and vigor.

Both teams have these qualities in spades.

Talk about evenly matched. Both clubs average about 80PPG and allow around 60PPG, and both teams normally demolish their opponents; Kansas (19.3) and Memphis (18.6) finished 1st & 2nd in the nation in margin of victory. And both teams are led by coaches that have to feel as if they have something to prove.

Somthing's gotta give.

Memphis' John Calipari was a hero when he took UMASS to the Final 4 in the mid 90s, only to see that facade ripped down when his team was stripped of its wins due to a payment scandal involving star forward Marcus Camby. He high tailed it to the NBA, where he was a failure, then slunk back to college to resurrect the dormant Tiger program. A win tonight would solidify his legacy as a program builder and help erase the black mark that has tainted his record.

Kansas' Bill Self built a powerhouse at Illinois before he bolted for the Jayhawks after Roy Williams left for Carolina five years ago. He has never been able to shed the dreaded moniker of "can't win the big game", although he went a long way towards doing just that when his team demolished Williams & the Tarheels in the semi final game Saturday night. Like Calipari, a win tonight and his legacy is sealed; he will forever be known as a championship coach, whether he leaves for his Alma mater Oklahoma State after the game or not, as has been rumored for the last few days.

With all the great players on the court tonight - Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas Roberts, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson - two will dictate which team cuts down the nets near midnight tonight:

Memphis G Derrick Rose- the fab freshman has had accolades heaped on him all season, but the praise has been effusive lately thanks to his monster performances in the tourney. The do-everything guard is averaging over 21 pts, 6.5 rebs and 5.5 ass per game in the tournament, and his end-to-end antics have been the stuff NCAA legends are made of. Catch him tonight, because it will probably be his final collegiate game

Kansas G Mario Chalmers- the wiry guard only averages 14 points and 3 assists per game, but it is his defensive abilities that could be the difference maker for Kansas. The sticky-fingered junior, along with fellow guard Russell Robinson, will be called on to help try and stop Rose, and if he has any luck at all shutting down the explosive frosh, the Jayhawks will have a much better shot at winning this game

Alright, enough of the BS, it's almost game time, and time for my prediction. As always, this pick is 100% guaranteed.

Memphis 79, Kansas 75



Sunday, April 06, 2008

Brackets Busted: Kansas to play Memphis for NCAA title

Memphis 78, UCLA 63
Kansas 84 , North Carolina 66

So much for the experts who picked the dream matchup of Carolina and UCLA in the NCAA Championship Game.

The Memphis Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks spoiled the bracket dreams of millions of fans nationwide as they both manhandled their supposedly superior opponents last night at the Final Four in San Antonio, setting up a Monday night showdown that not many in the country predicted would happen.

How do I know this? Well I'm not about to count the entrants of every, CBS Sportsline, Yahoo Sports and other national bracket pools, but according to our own pool, made up of 43 members, 9 picked Kansas to win it all and 3 picked the Tigers to cut down the nets, while 17 had the Tarheels taking home the crown and 8 had UCLA.

Interesting though is the fact that of the 12 entries that had either Kansas or Memphis winning it all, only 1 participant predicted the final game of Kansas and Memphis. I'm no math major but that tells me that out of 43 brackets only 1 called the final game correctly, and according to my unscientific calculations that equates to not many people getting the final game right.

Using the benefit of hindsight it seems foolish that more people didn't predict this title game pairing (this coming from a guy who picked Tennessee to win it all.) The Jayhawks had been lurking in the shadows of the top teams all year, clearly athletic, talented and strong enough to give the big guns a run for their money yet content to stay hidden behind the ghosts of past tournament failures and the perceived lack of big game gumption of coach Bill Self.

Memphis meanwhile had been at or near the top of the rankings all season, losing just 1 game all year, yet constantly heard the shouts about their record being padded with fluffy Conf USA opponents and how their horrendous free throw shooting (64%, 3rd worst in D1) would surely be their downfall once it came down to crunch time in tourney games.

All the two clubs did was destroy those false perceptions about them by demolishing their more-heralded opponents.

In the first game of the evening UCLA kept the game close for a while, trailing just 38-35 at the half, but after the break the Tigers, led by super freshman Derrick Rose (25pts, 9rebs, 4ass) pulled away, jumping out to a 10-pt lead, 47-37, just 4 minutes into the half and then cruising from there as their athleticism and speed just overwhelmed the plodding Bruins.

It didn't help matters that UCLA's two stars, freshman sensation Kevin Love (12pts) and junior guard Darren Collison (2), were held to 14 points combined on 5-20 shooting, while Memphis had a balanced attack led by Rose, leading scorer Chris Douglas Roberts (28 points) and intimidating big man Joey Dorsey (15 boards).

In the nightcap things got ugly early for the (overconfident? relaxed?) Tarheeels as Kansas blitzkrieged the shellshocked Heels and former Jayhawk coach Roy Williams to the tune of a 40-12 lead with 7:00 minutes left in the first half. This promoted noted blowhard Billy Packer to exclaim the game was over right then, which shocked partner Jim Nantz as well as a nation of viewers conditioned to believe that no sporting event is ever over until the final horn is sounded. I'm sure CBS loved that little gem.

UNC kept its cool and survived the early attack to slice the deficit to a manageable 44-27 at the half, and it was as if they were attempting to make Packer seem like the crusty old windbag that he is when they cut the deficit to five, 58-53, with 9:21 left to play. But it was a classic case of a team expending too much energy to get back in the game after being down by so much so early as the winded Heels succumbed to the relentless pressure of the Jayhawks, and a final 26-13 run by Kansas made the former blowout a blowout again.

So the two best teams in the country that not many believed in will take their aggressive, physical style of play to the title game on Monday night, and fans will either watch what should be an exciting finale or shun the game while nursing their shredded brackets.

I know my son, who was in first place after Game 1 and needed Carolina to win it all to take home the grand prize, will be in the latter category.

He shoulda picked Tennessee, like me. Now I can sit back and enjoy what should be a great championship game without having to worry about that pesky "I coulda won it all" crap haunting me.


Monday, March 31, 2008

Play Ball! (real) Opening Day is upon us

Not a pre-dawn kickoff in Japan or a made-for-ESPN prime time tilt but real live Opening Day

Good thing baseball is such a tradition-obsessed sport, huh? Not only have we already had two opening days, but one was at night and the other was in a foreign country 7,000 miles away from American soil.

Ah, Bad Hair Bud, what are we ever gonna do without you when you finally get busted with an underage male prostitute?

Following those two faux starts the 2008 baseball season officially gets underway with 14 contests on tap today. The former traditional Opening Day opening act, the Cincinnati Reds, will play but not the first game of the day, much to the chagrin of my Queen City relations, and the Red Sox and As, who played the first two games of the season in Japan last week, don't resume Part II of their 4-game series until tomorrow night in Oakland.

Another scheduling "quirk" finds the Braves and Nats, the clubs that played in last night's ESPN opener, both in action today but not against each other.

Idiotic scheduling aside, the beginning of the baseball season ias always a cause for celebration, especially when you don't have to get up at 5:00 am to do so, and like every other year this season will bring many questions that fans want answered and bloggers are obligated to try and answer for them, such as:

  • will the Red Sox repeat?

  • will the Rays finally reach .500 now that they've exorcised the Devil?

  • will Barry Bonds remain an unemployed pariah all season?

  • can the Tigers score 1000 runs with their modern day version of Murderer's Row?

  • how long before the Brewers regret giving Eric Gagme $10 million bucks (over/under is about 3 games)?

So without further adieu I'm going to dip my toe into the prediction pool. As with all my other picks, these are 100% guaranteed to come true...3-4 years from now.


AL EAST: Red Sox- they may not have made many changes from last year, but when you're the best team in baseball, why should you? Plus they learned about tinkering with the team following the championship in '04. If veteran starters hold up and kids Buchholz & Lester can step in, they should have enough firepower to repeat as division champs for the first time in the modern era.

AL CENTRAL: Tigers- I realize the Tigers are this year's chic pick to go all the way, and normally I don't like to jump on the bandwagon of the media darling du jour, but lat year I stayed away from the Indians and picked the White Sox, and look where that got me. Too much offense and enough quality pitching not to take the Central this year

AL WEST: Angels- see above, but substitute Rangers for White Sox. I realize their two aces are hurt right now, but Oakland is rebuilding, Seattle isn't ready yet, and Texas is, well, Texas. It's LA of A's divison for the taking

AL WILD CARD: Indians- like the Bosox the Tribe didn't make many changes this offseason. But also like the Sox, when you win 96 games, why mess with success?

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Rays- another fashionable pick to finally break through, but there is definitely a different attitude down here in the Bay area, and like I tell my Little Leaguer son, you can't do well without confidence, and this young team is a confident bunch. Could finish 3rd in the East because...

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Blue Jays- a rash of preseason injuries (Rolen, Ryan, Stairs) is a precursor of what's to come for the star-crossed Jays. As always they will have the talent to make the postseason and the salaries to make the talent happy, but the injury bug will keep this team from finishing above the Rays this year

MVP: Manny Ramirez, Bos- two words sums up why the mercurial ManRam will win his 1st regular season MVP award: Contract. Year.

CY YOUNG: Josh Beckett, Bos- he was robbed of the award last season, which should be all the motivation he will need to lay waste to the rest of the league again. IF his back injury flares up again however, look for transplanted Oriole Eric Bedard to notch his first Cy in Seattle

ROY: Evan Longoria, Rays- he didn't even make the roster to start the season, but that was purely a (typical D-Rays) business decision; when the 22-year-old third baseman is called up, he will dazzle voters with his sweet stroke and slick fielding


NL EAST: Mets- the team added the perfect cure for what ailed them last season: a multiple Cy Young winner whose shoulder isn't falling off. Johan Santana will help the Metropolitan fans forget last season's epic collapse and the disastrous signing of Petey Martinez as he plows through NL lineups like The Bride with a long blade.

NL CENTRAL: Cubs- every year I pick em to break the curse. One of these years it will finally happen. But with a nice blend of speed, power and pitching this could finally the the year. Right? Okay, stop laughing.

NL WEST: Dodgers- they may not have the offense of Colorado or the arms of San Diego, but they've got one thing those other teams don't have: a Hall of Fame manager with 5 championship rings. Somehow Joe Torre, freed from the shackles of the Bronx hellhole, will find a way to get this team to the postseason

NL WILD CARD: Padres- still not a great offense, although the additions of Tony Clark and Jim Edmonds will help, but when you've got a couple of guys on the staff with a combined 5 Cy Youngs plus a deep bullpen, it's tough to pick against 'em

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Nats- I'm not saying they're gonna win a playoff game or anything, but combine a young & talented club that doesn't know it should suck with the thrill of a new ballpark and all the signs are there for Washington to be the next crappy team to turn things around in a hurry

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Phillies- got all the makings of "one year wonder" written all over them. Biggest question is who will implode first, Brad Lidge or Brett Myers?

MVP: Jose Reyes, Mets- I picked him to win it last year and he was in contention until a late-season swoon brought him back to earth. This year he is poised to do what Jimmy Rollins did for Philly in '07: be an MVP sparkplug for a playoff team from the leadoff position

CY YOUNG: Johan Santana- the rumor is he's on the downside and that's why the Twins let him walk. I say give him a chance to face the pitcher three times a game in the DH-free NL and he'll add Cy #3 to his mantle place

ROY: Kosuke Fukodome, Cubs- another rookie who's not really a rookie thanks to his many years in the Japanese League, Fuko will be the '08 equivalent of Ichiro and Iwamura- an MLB-ready rookie without the actual service time



WORLD SERIES: Red Sox over Cubs in 7 games

One of these years it's gonna happen!

Check back in July for my excuse-riddled post as to why these predictions are so far off course.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Final First: Four #1 seeds advance to Final 4

North Carolina will face Kansas and Memphis will take on UCLA in an historic Final 4 in San Antonio

I know they call it March madness, but no one realized this year the term would apply because the tournament actually went according to plan. For the first time ever all four number one seeds have advanced to the Final 4, setting up what could be one of the best Saturdays in college basketball history.

One the one side you've got the top seeded North Carolina Tarheels, led by former Kansas coach Roy Williams, going up against those very Jayhawks that Williams abandoned for his beloved Tarheels five years ago, a storyline in itself that will be beaten to death by ESPN in the next week. Factor in the Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, who basically single-handedly led the Heels to the win in the Sweet 16 contest against the pesky Louisville Cardinals with his clutch 2nd half shooting, and a deep, talented and athletic group of kids from Kansas and you've got the making of an instant classic.

In the other game we will see the mighty Memphis Tigers, who play a dominating style of basketball on both ends of the court, battle the team many have picked to win it all outside of UNC, the UCLA Bruins. An interesting aspect of this contest will be the fact that both coaches, Memphis' John Calipari and the Bruins' Ben Howland, just became exclusive members of the fraternity of coaches who have led their clubs to 3 consecutive 30-win seasons. With multi-talented athletes all over the court and two capable courtside directors calling the shots, this game, too, has the makings of a classic.

Which most likely means both games will suck.

Like most of the games in the Sweet 16.

In a season where upsets occurred weekly and everyone thought there was a chance that any of 10 teams could cut down the nest, its ironic that the final 4 comes down to the four teams that have been at or near the top of the rankings all year.

The only upset this March was that there were no upsets.

Okay, sure, Davidson knocking off #2 seed Georgetown in the second round was THE upset of the tourney, but looking at the two teams now and realizing how good the little school that could really was and how mediocre Georgetown actually is, that upset seems less monumental and more "I shoulda seen it coming."

Unfortunately for Davidson they couldn't keep the streak going and knock off Goliath (Kansas) in the Elite Eight yesterday. Though they battled the Jayhawks right to the very end before a desperation three at the buzzer went wide, the hundreds of fans from the tiny college north of Charlotte home who got a free trip to Detroit courtesy of rich boosters weren't able to crash the party and become the first 10 seed to advance to the Final 4.

Instead it will be another first- the first time all four #1s make it to the last round- something that is really amazing when you think of it considering these seeds are supposed to make it there every year.

Just goes to show you what the selection committee knows.

And speaking of selections, although my bracket crashed and burned when the Volunteers schoolyard style of ball was bested by Louisville's version of the And 1Mix Tape, my 11-year-old son now resides at the top of the bracket heap, needing Carolina and Memphis to advance to the championship in order for him to claim the grand prize.

Now that's what I call madness, baby!


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Start the Madness! The NCAA Tourney is upon us

Contrary to popular belief and going against a legendary yule time song, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

St. Paddy's Day just ended, Easter is coming up this weekend, spring begins today (and if you happen to live in Florida, hail the onslaught of spring breakers), the start of the baseball season is just around the corner, and the annual bracket-fest known as March madness gets underway as the NCAA basketball tournament tips off today.

I think that beats a single winter-time holiday in my book.

Amidst all the warm weather (again, only if you live here) and thawing good spirits there will be millions of budding bracketologists wagering a solid $20 spot in the hopes that their monumental upsets come in, giving them the big push they need to take home the crown of King (or Queen) of the Office Pool.

Unless you're one of the millions who never picks the right upsets and sees their top pick lose in the Sweet 16 or earlier.

Like me.

But either way this is certainly a fun time on the calendar. I love seeing the people who skip work or take LONG lunches in order to catch that all-important 15-2 match up, or better yet the diehards who just hunker down on the couch for about 64 hours on the first four days of the tourney until they start to resemble the woman who got stuck to the toilet seat. They are the ones who make this time so special.

So embrace the atmosphere, soak up the sun (again, FLA residents & tourists only), and enjoy the best damn 30-day period on the calendar.

And if you really need something to smile about, check out my picks after the jump.

Sweet 16:
-N. Carolina v Notre Dame
-Louisville v Tennessee
-Kansas v Villanova
-Kansas St. v Georgetown

-Memphis v Pitt
-Stanford v Texas
-UCLA v Drake
-Purdue v Duke

Elite 8:
-N. Carolina v Tennessee
-Kansas v Georgetown

-Pitt v Texas
-UCLA v Duke

Final 4:
-Tennessee v Kansas
-Texas v UCLA

Championship Game:
-Tennessee v UCLA

National Champs:
Tennessee Vols

Okay, you can stop laughing now!