Monday, April 25, 2011

The Problem with Mike Conley

Mike Conley! I'm calling you out! How did you ever get that shiny new contract? I mean, you only shot 44% from the field this season. Tony Parker shot can you look in the mirror shooting under .500? So not everyone's a lights out shooter, but what do you do? Ok, your points and assists per game have improved marginally every year in the league. This is your fourth season, why aren't you a superstar already? Rondo's a superstar, so is Westbrook and Derek Rose. This is the age of the point guard...where are you? You're slacking man!

You were picked fourth owe me, and everyone else, more than you're giving. Yes, you run the Grizzlies offense beautifully, spreading the ball around to all your weapons, finding the hot-hand and rarely making a bad decision or taking a bad shot. You think that's enough to make you a good player? You think that makes you worth $5 million a year? You got another thing coming man. I never see you on Sportcenter and you've never done something I haven't seen before. I could care less that you're the primary ball-handler on a Grizzlies team that has the #1 ranked Spurs one game from elimination.

I know what all you irrational Conley fans are thinking. "But Mike's got more assists and rebounds than the great Tony Parker...he's more than holding his own against one of the best point-guards in the NBA!" Get real. We all know there's only one stat gets you paid and that's points, where TP is outscoring Conley by 2 points per game. Are you fools even watching these games? Watch TP score in the paint over and over with his spins and floaters and tell me he's getting outplayed. All Mike Conley does is move the ball on to the next. Anyone can pass a ball. Putting the ball in the right guy's hands on point and on time is not that hard. I mean, even Mike Conley can do it all day.

I don’t watch basketball to see guys who are thinking the game and keep it simple. I’m trying to see someone jump out of the damn gym, someone who the camera can’t even keep up with. The NBA is where amazing happens. You do not amaze me, Mike Conley. That’s fine if you’re a tough guy or a hustler, but you’re a point-guard! You are supposed to thrill me. You never thrill me. Your handle is good, not great. You can shoot alright. You're just the guy passing to the guy. So you’re in the top-10 in steals…so what? You never dunk 'em anyway.

There's a reason you get no respect, and why your new contract was widely ridiculed as yet another piece of bone-headed Grizzlies’ business. Even so, I thought it was important to point out to people just how unspectacular you are...$5 million? Really? The Grizzlies’ must be idiots with no basketball sense to give you that contract. Either that…or I’m an idiot with no basketball sense and you know that's not true.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NBA Playoff Preview

I’m not excited when I turn on a basketball game anymore. Don’t worry; this isn’t a misguided plea for more teamwork and passing in the NBA, with a shorter 3-point line. This is a plea for the playoff season to start already! I’m at the point of the season where I’ve seen all the teams. I’ve seen every permutation of every possible matchup and dissected what every result meant.

What I need now is a game that really means something. The playoff teams are all but set, barring the late scrabble to be a sacrificial 8th seed. There are only three weeks left in the season, but I’m part of the microwave generation and I can’t wait that long. With that in mind, here is my Probably-Two-Weeks-Premature NBA Playoff Preview.

Consulting with a certified basketball genius who will remain nameless, I have projected the results of the remaining games to come up with a playoff seeding.

1. Spurs (64-18)
2. Lakers (59-23)
3. Mavericks (57-25)
4. Thunder (49-33)
5. Nuggets (48-34)
6. Blazers (48-34)
7. Hornets (46-36)
8. Grizzlies (45-37)

1. Bulls (60-22)
2. Celtics (59-23)
3. Heat (58-24)
4. Magic (55-26)
5. Hawks (44-38)
6. 76ers (43-39)
7. Knicks (41-41)
8. Pacers (37-45)

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting previews and predictions for every series, ending with my prediction for the 2011 NBA Champions.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NBA Power Rankings


1. Spurs .815

It must be hard for a Texas team to be heard above the din of New York and LA. How else can you explain the anonymity of a team that’s five and a half games up on everyone else?

2. Lakers .697

Phil Jackson has never coached a championship team that had a four-game losing streak before. But it’s Kobe.

3. Mavs .723

Just like the Spurs, they don’t get a lot of respect. Tough at home, tough on the road...they’ll make some noise.

4. Celtics .730

A shock trade has left the Celtics clinging to bona-fide contender status. Can the Big 3 get back to the finals again?


5. Bulls .719

The Bulls have made people stand up and take notice in the playoffs before. No one wants to see the MVP standing in their way.

6. Heat .677

Has there ever been a more dramatic team in history? Wild swings of emotion seem to carry the Heat’s season from explosive highs and desperate lows.


7. Magic .621

They probably think that they belong at the top table. They’ll need to show it in the playoffs to get there.

8. Thunder .641

They’re a very good, but still very young team.


9. Blazers .569

How good would the Blazers be if they could keep everyone healthy? They’re pretty good anyway and no one wants to see the Blazers in the first round.

10. Nuggets .585

It’s hard to know what the Nuggets are so soon after a big trade. What they look like is a well coached team that is legitimately 11-deep and has all the swagger with none of the ego.

11. Hawks .569

I don’t really like having the Hawks this high, since it doesn’t really seem like they’re going anywhere. They might never be great, but they’re still good and we’ve seen them stand up to a bully in the playoffs before.

12. Knicks .531

They might be a year or two away from being where they want to be, the NBA Finals, but STAT and Melo have shown more chemistry in 3 weeks than Miami’s mustered in an entire season.

13. Grizzlies .545

I have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that the Grizzlies are just the new Hawks.

14. Hornets .567

I can’t help but feel like the fact that the Hornets are so high is a testament to how good Chris Paul is. That does a disservice to David West and Emeka Okafor, but despite injuries, Paul has this team punching above its weight.


15. 76ers .523

They may have started out slowly, but have steadily improved to get back into the playoffs. I don’t think we really know how good they are yet, they might not either.

16. Suns .524

The Sun may be setting on this Phoenix team. It’s a veteran team and this could be their last chance to make something happen together.

17. Jazz .515

They lost their coach of 20+ years and their franchise player in the same week. Anything this reeling club does will be done on guts.

18. Rockets .500

This team always feels like they’re playing uphill, but they play well.


19. Warriors .446

Nelly’s gone, but they can still score. They can’t do a lot else, but they can sure put some points up and look good doing it.

20. Pacers .415

Larry Bird has a little something cooking in Indiana. They have a lot of under the radar guys just waiting to break out.

21. Clippers .379

There’s nothing under the radar about the Clippers, thanks to Blake Griffin. There’s some substance behind the style too and it seems the Clippers won’t be bad forever after all.


22. Bobcats .415

They just traded away their best player in Gerald Wallace. Even before that I didn’t see a lot of point in watching a Bobcats game.

23. Bucks .397

At this time last year, Bucks fans were wondering if Brandon Jennings was the next Iverson. This time this year, I’m wondering if we’ll ever care what the Bucks are doing.


24. Nets .328

They have Deron, they’re moving to Brooklyn, they have a Russian billionaire owner. That’s a lot of good things; are they good now; no…will they be good soon? Why wouldn’t they be?

25. Pistons .348

Detroit…Basketball…is kinda weak right now. They have a few guys who can play, but they need to figure out what’s going on with the old guard before they move forward.


26. Timberwolves .254

Love’s a beast. The Wolves need to do a lot of work to convince him to he’s not wasting time in Minnesota.

27. Raptors .277

The Raptors have half a great team. Unfortunately, it’s the bottom half.

29. Kings .238

DeMarcus Cousins might turn out to be the best player in his draft class and is already the best player on the Kings. No one’s told Tyreke yet though.

28. Wizards .254

If it wasn’t for Blake Griffin, we might care more about the Wizards, if only to watch John Wall play for Rookie of the Year. But Blake Griffin exists, so the Wizards might as well not.

30. Cavs .188

Historically bad…what else is there to say?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

State of the Nick-Nation

What happened to all the cool nicknames in basketball? I feel like we’re in the middle of a nickname drought right now. I mean, people have nicknames, but it’s not like Magic Johnson, where he was his nickname. The old nicknames just sounded so great: Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwan, “Air” Jordan and so on. What are we calling these guys now? Most of the stars in the NBA are just going by some combination of their name and number. CP3, DWill, DRose, D12, CB4 (back when Bosh was in Toronto)…those aren’t nicknames! Nicknames are supposed to be colourful and cool, not sound like a barcode. Has the human race’s creative spark been so blunted by technology that this is what we’re reduced to?

No doubt we have to step up our name-game, that’s the fans and the media, cause you can’t give yourself a nickname…that’s elementary nickname etiquette. Did you ever just kind of sidle up to someone at school and say, real casual, “So…people are calling me T-Bone now, you hear about this? It’s stupid…but…yeah you can call me T-Bone I guess.” No you didn’t. Because if you did that, your friends and everyone else would be well within their rights to give you any nickname they wanted; punishment for a blatant nickname foul.

Speaking of nickname fouls, how did we let Dwight Howard get away with calling himself Superman? Not only did he give himself that name, he did it while there was still another Superman running around the schoolyard. He’s lucky we’re not calling him Princess right now.

But there are a few good nicknames kicking around the NBA, all is not lost. I love the Black Mamba for Kobe because that’s what he is on the court: a deadly assassin. Ray Allen is Jesus, Glen Davis is Big Baby, Sasha Vujacic is Machine (not, “the Machine”, just, “Machine”), AK47 is just a name and number, but the fact that Andrei Kirilinko is Russian and looks like an AK47 toting bad-guy from central casting helps, LeBron James is the King.

Just a side note for those of you thinking, “How is LeBron the King? What has he done for the crown?” Don’t be so quick to think that being called the King is such a great thing. That nickname, like so many things associated with LeBron these days, is a poisoned chalice. It could very quickly take on a mocking tone if his career doesn’t go the way he wants it to. If I was him, I’d way rather go by L-Train, which is what the Cavs colour guy used to call him. Nevertheless, I think the name fits him…King James sounds right and he has the bearing and confidence (arrogance?) to pull it off.

It’s easy to criticize, but I feel like I should at least attempt to make a contribution to this supposed dearth of good nicknames that I’m claiming. It’s tough, because obviously the best nicknames come from really knowing someone and their idiosyncrasies, but I’ll give it a shot.

First of all, it’s really too bad that Chris Bosh left the Raptors, not because he was their key to success, but because he looks exactly a dinosaur. To be more specific, he looks exactly like Littlefoot from the Land Before Time movies. Google it. Even better, his

girlfriend, I don’t know if they’re still together but the girlfriend he had in Toronto, the one that heckled LeBron, looks exactly like Sara, the triceratops from Land Before Time. Google that too. But Chris left Toronto, robbing us of the nicknaming material of dreams, so I won’t even try to think of a dinosaur name for him. It’ll just make me sad that it doesn’t apply anymore. Velocabosh. What a waste. What a waste.

Another one I’ve been thinking about lately doesn’t really sound that great, but it has some potential, I think. I saw this picture of Rondo guarding LeBron and it really brought home something I’ve kind of thought all along. That Rajon Rando looks like a goblin. He’s short (relatively) and he’s got the long arms and his face is just…gobliny. Rajon Rondo is The Green Goblin. He’s throwing pumpkin bomb dimes on the regular. The ball is orange and everything. At the end of the day, I really just want to hear Marv Albert say, “Oh my goodness! There’s a goblin in the garden!”

Who is the Green Goblin’s arch nemesis? It’s Spiderman and for the sake of symmetry I will now force that nickname down some players’ throat. Spiderman as a basketball player has to be able to hang around in the air, weave around people and he should probably be wearing a red suit. Don’t Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo have kind of a strained relationship, a little bit of a rivalry? Beautiful, because Derrick Rose is Spiderman. Boom. We got a little momentum going now. Dwight Howard can be Mary Jane.

I got a couple more to run by you:

Dwight “Disney” Howard – Because he plays in Orlando and he has cartoon muscles and a huge smile.

Delonte “Rambo” West/Delonte “Wild” West – The man was pulled over on a three-wheeled motorcycle with a pump action shotgun, a semi-automatic pistol and a revolver. Something like that needs to be commemorated. Other options could include “The Matrix”, or any reference to someone who would conceivably roll in on a three wheeled bike packing a shotgun.

Kevin “The Ant” Durant – Because he looks weak but he can carry a lot on his back. Pretty weak but it rhymes.

Sonny “Money” Weems – A favourite of mine, both the name and the player.

That’s all I got. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start. Can you think of a good one?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Under Review: NBA Trade Deadline

Some trade deadlines arrive with a ton of hype and coverage, but rarely a trade that’s actually interesting, *cough* NHL *cough*. The NBA trade deadline is not one of those deadlines, and 2011 was no different. In fact, 2011 gave NBA fans one of the craziest trade deadlines in recent memory, with 14 trades, involving 17 draft picks and 49 players, ranging from the Carmelo’s and Deron’s of the world all the way down to the Luke Harangody’s.

There were the blockbusters, one expected, one not, which completely removed all the star-power from Mountain Time…other than Gordon Hayward, obviously. Other deals may have involved lesser lights, but their impact on where the trophy ends up in June for the next few years could be huge. Finally, on the Timberwolves end of the spectrum, there were a number of trades which could have only served to depress fans worldwide as they acquainted, or reacquainted, themselves with the reality that their team is hopelessly irrelevant and, perhaps, will be for quite some time.

Let’s begin at the top. After all the Melodrama, the New York Knicks finally got their man, acquiring F Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets, along with G Chauncey Billups, F Renaldo Balkman, G Anthony Carter and C Shelden Williams from the Nuggets, along with F Corey Brewer from the Minnesota Timberwolves. In return, the Nuggets got F Wilson Chandler, G Raymond Felton, F Danilo Galinari, C Timofey Mozgov, C Kostas Koufas, the Knicks’ 2014 1st round pick, 2nd round picks in 2012 and 2013, both originally belonging to the Warriors, and 3 million dollars cash. As part of the deal, the Timberwolves picked up C Eddy Curry’s expiring contract and F Anthony Randolph from the Knicks, the Nuggets’ 2015 2nd round pick and 3 million dollars.

So after wading through the details of that monster deal, what does it all mean? What it means is that the Knicks will be starting two of the best players in the league, in their prime, for at least the next 5 years or so. I read a lot of articles from various sports media outlets leading up to and after this trade about how Carmelo wasn’t worth the price, how he was just a volume shooter who couldn’t, and wouldn’t, play defence. That’s bogus. That opinion is, as the kids say, an epic fail. Carmelo Anthony is not, “the best scorer in the league.” Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Amar’e Stoudemire and Dwyane Wade are all averaging more points per game and all shoot a higher percentage from the field. What Carmelo Anthony is, is the most versatile scorer in the league. Carmelo Anthony is faster than you and if he’s not, then he’s stronger than you. He might be stronger, taller and faster than you. He can play with his back to the basket and he can kill you from the outside. He can get to the line, where he shoots better than 80%. When you need a bucket, say…I don’t know, sometime in May or June, Carmelo can get it for you any way you want it. That kind of skill-set is rare and invaluable. If you can get Carmelo Anthony, you do it. Throw in the fact that he’s a New Yorker who wants to play in the Garden more than anything and it’s a slam dunk. Yes, the price was steep, but it was absolutely worth it, and let’s not forget that Carmelo didn’t arrive in the Big Apple alone. Flying in with him, somehow under the radar, is a former Finals MVP, Chauncey Billups, who is a definite upgrade at the point-guard position over Raymond Felton. And don’t sleep on Corey Brewer, who joins the Knicks from Minnesota. He is definitely capable of filling in some holes on the stat-sheet and he can give you defence, athleticism and effort, attributes that are always welcome.

It’s not all doom and gloom in Denver either and I think, given the circumstances, the Nuggets came out of this in pretty good shape too. They avoided getting Leboned, Boshed, whatever you want to call it, by getting the most they could for their want-away superstar. Along with draft picks, the Nuggets got a couple of nice young players in Danilo Galinari and Wilson Chandler, a promising big man in Timofey Mozgov and either a really good backup guard, or a good trade chip in Raymond Felton. They’ll have to make a decision on whether to resign Chandler after this season, but the rest are signed for at least next season. Remember, these guys made up the majority of a starting line-up that had already begun New York’s resurgence and they’ve already started well in Denver, beating the Celtics in the home-opener of the new-look Nuggets before losing by one, on the road in Portland, the very next night. Pretty good start. Nuggets fans should feel good about where they’re at right now. Kenyon Martin’s $16 million salary comes off the books after this season, meaning they should be able to resign anyone they want to keep among their list of expiring contracts (Martin, J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, Aaron Afflalo) AND, as part of the Anthony deal, they have a $17 million trade exception they can use to sign a marquee free agent if and when they choose.

The Timberwolves got what they got out of the deal and, to be honest, no one really cares, although it’s kinda funny that one team now has Eddy Curry, Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley. Unfortunately, Minnesota is one of those teams I mentioned in the intro: hopelessly irrelevant, their fans can only count the days until Kevin Love inevitably leaves, without even the comfort of knowing that Clippers fans understand their pain. They do, or they once did, but now they have Blake Griffin, so they don’t care anymore.

The big question during the Carmelo trade saga was would Carmelo go to the Knicks, or become a part of the Nets (eventual) Brooklyn revolution. He went to the Knicks and the Nets missed out on the first big splash of the Prokhorov era…or so we thought. In what was maybe the biggest surprise of deadline day, the Utah Jazz sent All-Star point guard Deron Williams to New Jersey for F Derrick Favors, G Devin Harris, the Nets’ 2011 1st round pick, a 2012 1st round pick originally belonging to the Warriors and cash considerations.

The immediate reaction to this deal was that, if you’re going to have to settle on a consolation prize, Deron Williams is a really good consolation prize. That is absolutely true, but this deal marks a huge risk for the Nets organization, and here’s why. Deron Williams, who unlike Carmelo Anthony did not sign an extension after being traded, will be a free agent after the 2012 season. The Nets basically have the rest of this season and next to convince Deron that New Jersey/Brooklyn is the place to be, and I think they could have a hard time convincing him of that. As a Net, Deron Williams will get to play with Brook Lopez and…that’s it. The Nets are one of the least talented teams in the league and the 2011 free agent class is hardly sparkling, so it’ll take some creative wheeling and dealing to make that roster attractive. Yes, Deron is a superstar point-guard, the kind of player other stars want to play with, but teams aren’t giving away players for free, unless you’re the Lakers and you’re offering Javaris Crittenton, and the Nets don’t have a single attractive trade chip. Ultimately, I think Deron only resigns with the Nets because A) they can offer him the most money, B) there’s nowhere better he can go, or C) he’s a huge Beyonce fan. In the meantime, there are going to be a ton of teams plotting a way to sign Deron away from the Nets and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of them manages it.

There were a couple of moves made at the deadline that made sense, I can see the logic and they could very well work out spectacularly, but they don’t sit well with me. First, G Baron Davis was sent to Cleveland, along with the Clippers’ 2011 1st round pick, for G Mo Williams and F Jamario Moon. I can see why the Clippers did it. Mo Williams is going to give you, pretty much, what Baron gave you, but for $3 million less. Plus, he never showed up for work completely out of shape. But, Baron had been reinvigorated by Blake Griffin, he was motivated again, motivated Baron is awesome, he was sveltening by the day. The Clippers just had a lot of feel good energy going this season and, as a fan, I can tell you that this trade kind of killed the momentum a little bit. Everything else aside, this trade has to go down as one of the worst ever from a player’s point of view. Baron was fat and unhappy and then Blake Griffin came along and basketball was fun again, Baron got in shape and the Clippers started winning. Baron went from the moon roof of a car in his hometown of LA, throwing a lob to his teammate, the most exciting player in the league, who was about to win the dunk contest, to Cleveland and a historically bad team, in a matter of days…that sucks.

Another trade that just kind of rubbed me the wrong way was the Celtics sending C Kendrick Perkins and G Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for F Jeff Green, C Nenad Krstic and a future 1st round draft pick. Again, I get it. The Celtics need to start thinking about life after the Big 3 in the long term and they needed to be deeper at the forward spot to deal with the Carmelo’s and Lebron’s in the short term. This deal will help them do both. The Thunder didn’t really need Jeff Green, but they needed a big guy to deal with Bynum, Duncan and Chandler out West, this deal did that for them. What I don’t like about this deal is on the Celtics end. Kendrick Perkins was a big part of their title winning formula, a formula that had yet to fail when all the players were healthy. Perkins was drafted by the Celtics, who watched him grow and develop into the player he is. Where’s the loyalty? The reality is that it’s professional sports and there isn’t any loyalty, but that doesn’t make it sting any less for Perkins, who reportedly cried all day when he found out he’d been traded. On a side note, I’m really tired of teams, fans and the media trying to label want away stars as selfish. It’s such a double standard. Carmelo’s somehow ruining the NBA by going to New York, but the Celtics are just making a smart move. Come on.

Really quickly, some of the other notable deals and their ramifications:

F Gerald Wallace to the Portland Trailblazers

The perpetually rebuilding Bobcats sent Wallace to Portland for Joel Pryzbilla, a couple of 1st rounders and a couple of scrubs. I love this deal for the Trailblazers. They weren’t getting a lot of Pryzbilla and in Wallace they get a high energy guy who’s a great rebounder at his position. The Blazers can roll out Wallace, Marcus Camby and Lamarcus Aldridge and have three guys who could all average 10 rebounds a game. If Brandon Roy can get right and he’s showing signs that he can, this Blazers team is going to be a really tough out in the playoffs. As for the ramifications for the Bobcats, there’s no time…see above re: the Timberwolves, etc.

G Aaron Brooks to the Phoenix Suns

The Suns swapped point guards with the Rockets, sending Goran Dragic and a 1st rounder to Houston for Aaron Brooks. Both of these guys have regressed a little bit this year and they will both need to be resigned after the season. I think Phoenix got the better player in the deal, but how much these two end up costing with their new contracts will give us a better picture of how this shakes out. For now, the Suns have a talented scoring guard who will take pressure and minutes away from Steve Nash’s aging legs and the Rockets probably save some money and get a pretty good point guard prospect.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Derby Days: Part Three

Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City

I’ll end with a brief mention of some of the players who caught the eye today. For United, Chris Smalling was very, very good in his first Manchester derby. There was a touch of nerves in his early touches, but he was more and more assured as the match wore on. To go from playing non-league football to standing out in this derby in such a short time is really an incredible achievement and an example to anyone not on the fast track to playing for the club of their dreams. (Note to self: do some push-ups or something soon.)

From a man playing in his first derby to one who’s played in a few, Ryan Giggs continues to amaze at the age of 37. He started slowly, but after the first United goal he burst into life. The best part about Giggs is that he get’s older and his game changes a bit, but he still has those moments where he’s flying down the wing and no one can get near him. He had an advert for a fitness DVD at half-time, and I can’t think of a better product for him to sell. How he plays like he does after all these years is anyone’s guess. I think, when it’s all said and done, he retires as the greatest United player of all time.

Nani finished the game with a goal and an assist, further pushing his claim as United’s most important player. He really has become a fantastic player. He can shoot with power on both feet, he’s quick over any distance, great feet, strong, delivers quality service, can play on the left or the right, scores goals, sets them up and most importantly, does all of the above consistently. He is no longer the next Ronaldo, or the other Ronaldo…he is becoming the one and only Nani.

For City, I think the best player on the pitch was Vincent Kompany by a mile. He read the game really well and was never really beaten to anything. City are very hard to break down and he is the reason why. If it wasn’t for a moment of genius, we would all be talking about how invisible Rooney was under his watch.

Ifs and buts aren’t worth much, but another City player could have easily grabbed all the headlines, with a little luck. I am talking about David Silva, who missed out on opening the scoring by inches. Despite that miss, Silva was brilliant for City, pulling all the strings in the midfield, but he wasn’t alone in that area. United won the match, but it was City who looked the classier side in midfield. Silva gives them all the guile and movement you could want, while Toure is a huge presence. To be honest, I think Gareth Barry brings them down and needs to be replaced, but two-thirds of that midfield is as good as they come.

Speaking of catching the eye…Wayne Rooney. I can’t tell you what that goal means to the title race, or to Rooney personally or professionally. I can only describe to you what it meant to me. It was a moment of brilliance which burst into my consciousness, illuminating my mind, body and soul. Everything in the world seemed better and brighter. That goal made me want to be a better person. What I felt when I saw that goal is the reason I love these sports. Is the above paragraph laughably cheesy and melodramatic? Yes. Is the above paragraph absolutely the truth? Yes.

Derby Days: Part Two

Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City

It would be very unfair to talk about this latest Manchester classic without talking about how well Manchester City played. It was a harsh result for the Blues, who played very well and were unlucky not to win the game to be honest. The Citizens bossed the early stages of the match and should have score when Silva, who was excellent throughout, was put through early on only to stab just wide. It took the first United goal, which really came out of nowhere, to turn the match for the home side. Nani’s opener will be forgotten by many, but it was a brilliant individual effort in its own right. More on Nani later, but I said City’s efforts shouldn’t be glossed over and I was just about to do just that. City rose to the occasion and there is no doubt that they will be right there for all the trophies in years to come with the squad they’ve assembled. Vincent Kompany was flawless in defence, Silva, class in midfield, Tevez, all action in attack. Along with Joe Hart, Yaya Toure and the rest it is a side that will only get better the more they play together.

I’m a United fan, but I, for one, am so happy that City are in the condition they are in. In terms of spicy games, Arsenal matches have lost all the animosity which made them great, Liverpool haven’t been good enough and Chelsea was only ever a paper tiger, not in terms of quality, but the rivalry was forced and unnatural. City gets the pulse racing like few others at the moment and it’s a welcome sensation.

Derby Days: Part One

Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City

Whew! They don’t come much better than that if you’re a Manchester United fan do they? It was a massive result for the Reds and for the winning goal to come like that…there are no words.

Stunner doesn’t even begin to describe Wayne Rooney’s 78th minute winner. Three points: it was a massive win for United in the title race, especially after the slip-up at Wolves, secondly, to score like that, it’s just incredible...and so late in the game after having lost the lead. Finally, elevating that goal from stunner to absolutely-out-of-this-world-fairytale-stuff was how poorly Rooney had been playing up to that point. His touch just before the ball was moved wide for Nani to float it in summed up his match to that point: clumsy and impotent.

Rooney was never really a threat to the City defence and he looked completely bereft of confidence, never looking to attack, always going backwards and sideways. That swift change, from frustrated non-factor…to pure embodiment of footballing genius was so sudden, it made the goal all-the-more breathtaking, and it was pretty good on its own anyway. It was so good that, as Alex Ferguson noted after the game, it completely erased Nani’s quite brilliant opener from the mind. It was so good that Roberto Mancini, when asked if he had been beaten by a moment of genius could only pause for a second, shrug his shoulders and say, “Yes.” It was so good.

As incredible as Rooney’s goal was, his overall performance in the match was quite poor. It will be lost in the furor of his winner, but Rooney looked out of sorts, as has become all too common lately. He’s not in the right frame of mind, which should come as little surprise in what has been such a turbulent year for the United man. He just looks like he’s playing on edge, over-thinking everything and the instances of positive impact are all too rare. Watching Rooney this season has been watching a man concentrating on playing well instead of just playing. He rarely attacks space as he once did. He is not lacking in ability, but Rooney’s mind is not right at the moment. There are always flashes of the Rooney of old: after City’s equaliser, Rooney took off from the restart, taking on the entire City team and beating several. United fans will hope that this wonderful, instinctive goal serves as a catalyst for the man because, as crazy as it is to say now, after what’s happened, Rooney was not worth his place in the line-up over Berbatov today.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Statistical Quo

Before last week's Steelers-Giants NFL game, the analysts predictably debated, "Who's the better quarterback? Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger?" And equally predictably, the first method of comparison was, "How many championship rings do they have?"

The use of championships to measure an athlete's greatness doesn't make sense. We hear over and over that a player has plenty of talent, but can't be called great unless he's won a title. But by evaluating athletes based on their championship rings, many equally important aspects of athleticism are ignored. This is especially true of team sports, where these debates about relative greatness are the most subjective.

The greatest athlete in a team sport might never have a chance to play in a championship, because with every passing year, there's a greater degree of parity across team sports-the supply of quality athletes is expanding. Thanks to advances in training, kids are ready for professional leagues sooner, and careers are being stretched longer and longer as veterans can keep their bodies in top condition. This increased pool of talent means more competition across the board.

With this increased parity, the winner of a championship comes down to many factors that are outside the control of any individual: the referees, weather conditions, and coaching adjustments, to name a few. Granted, both teams are equally susceptible to these factors, but there's no denying that the best team doesn't necessarily win every single championship. Winning at the highest level, therefore, requires a healthy helping of good fortune, in addition to dedication and talent.

Furthermore, how can a team's success or lack of success be a reflection of one person? Comparing quarterbacks based on Super Bowl victories is far too simplistic a way to look at sports. A quarterback is only as great as his offensive line, receivers, running game, and coaching staff allow him to be. The same goes for any team sport. A championship is won or lost by the team as a whole, and the connection of team success to individual greatness is tenuous at best.

Sports aren't meant to be read about or written about-they're meant to be seen. Greatness, as a result, should be measured by how an athlete makes you feel when you watch him perform, not by what his stat sheet says. Statistics, even wins and losses, can also be misleading. And when an athlete only gets a few chances to play in a championship, those few games are far too small a sample size. Yet, an athlete's number of victories is often the be-all, end-all for determining his placement among the greatest of all time. An athlete's championship victories should be merely a piece of a much larger puzzle, not the absolute truth as is so often argued today.

Being an athlete is a results-driven job, but to lose sight of an athlete's artistry is to ignore what it is that captures the imagination in the first place. A child watching Michael Jordan, Ronaldo, or Barry Sanders play for the first time doesn't care about how many trophies they have. What matters, what resonates, is the amazing things that athletes can do, and the exhilaration of bearing witness to greatness.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

NFC Divisonal Preview

NFC Divisional Round Preview

Packers @ Falcons

The NFC matchups might not have the deep-rooted bitterness of the AFC games, but that doesn’t make them any less compelling. Falcons v. Packers will see the two best young quarterbacks in the league face off, in what is a preview of a rivalry we could be watching for years to come. Aaron Rodgers won his first ever playoff game in Philadelphia last week and Matt Ryan will try to emulate the feat in the Georgia Dome, where he is 18-2 in his career.

This is such a tough game to call because both of these teams are so good and so complete. There are two aspects of the game that really set the two apart. It’s a wash at quarterback and receiver, but the Falcons have the advantage in the running game with Michael Turner. Turner is so consistent, game to game and play to play. He may not get too many spectacular runs, but he will take whatever you give him and an extra yard or two as well. For Matt Ryan, having a running back that can be counted on to keep the offense on schedule is a huge advantage and it means that Atlanta’s offense can get in a rhythm and become really hard to stop.

Green Bay has an offense that is pretty hard to stop in its own right, but they haven’t had the balance that the Falcons have enjoyed. Playing in a dome means the running game is not as crucial as it could be, but it’s an old cliché, and a true one, that running the ball is so important in the playoffs. The Packers have struggled to get anything going on the ground after losing starter Ryan Grant in the first game of the season, but they have a new hope in the shape of rookie running back James Starks, who ran for 123 yards against the Eagles, averaging 5.3 yards-per-carry.

So the guy has one good game and all of a sudden he’s the answer? Well…yes, he very well could be. A closer look at James Starks’ recent history paints a picture of a guy that could have just needed the chance to perform. First, take a look at his body of work this season. Apart from last weekend, Starks only appeared in two games. In week 12, he ran for 73 yards, averaging 4.1 yards-per-carry in his debut against the Niners. A week later he had a bit of a dud, only gaining eight yards on six carries. He didn’t play again until last week. So he’s 2 for 3 so far, which isn’t too bad, especially when one of the two is in the playoffs. In college, Starks was a standout runner in the MAC, but missed his senior season with injury, something that hurt him in the draft, where he was taken in the sixth round. Speaking of the draft, go find the top performers from the combine. Starks is listed as a top performer, not the top performer but a top performer, among running backs in five of the seven drills. He wasn’t spectacular in any one, but very solid across the board, outperforming the more highly touted Ryan Matthews, for one. Now, I’m not one to place a ton of meaning on the combine, but when you couple those numbers with a pair of promising performances, you get a picture of a running back who could be something. The Packers don’t need a spectacular runner, just someone to hit the holes hard and take some of the pressure off of Aaron Rodgers…I think James Starks can be that guy.

The second factor that sets these teams apart is on defense. The Falcons have a solid but decidedly unspectacular unit, averaging in the middle of the pack in most categories. The Packers, on the other hand, have a truly elite unit. The Packers are really versatile on defense and can put pressure on the quarterback from so many different places. Unlike the running game, there’s no white knight on the horizon for the Falcons and they give up a decided edge, on paper, to the Packers.

Tough to call, but I’m going to go with the Packers to go into Atlanta and beat the Falcons. I just think they have something a little extra and are more capable of doing something unexpected and explosive, on both sides of the ball. I know that Matt Ryan has been great at home, but I’m not going to get carried away with his record at home. 18-2 is a very impressive number, but if you look at each game that was played…I mean, the Falcons are a good team, they expected to win a lot of those games at home. It’s still impressive, but it doesn’t make the Falcons invincible in Atlanta.

Seahawks @ Bears

I began my preview of the Seahawks first playoff game by asking whether I should even bother writing about the game. Such was the overwhelming feeling of futility that surrounding the Seahawks. We all know how that turned out and there can’t have been many people that went 4-0 with their playoff picks last weekend.

I should learn from that performance last week, that these guys are all professionals, that they are only men and on any given day anything can happen. What happened on that day is the Saints defence was completely exposed. The Lynch run stands out as a celebration of terrible tackling, but that wasn’t the only let down from the Saints. When you go back and watch the highlights, every Seahawks touchdown came from a glaring breakdown in the Saints secondary. Yes, the Seahawks were gutsy, yes, Hasselbeck was great and yes, the Saints were epically bad on defense.

The Seahawks are heading into a completely different situation this weekend. That Bears defense is truly elite and there won’t be any gimmes. Add to that the Soldier Field turf, which is much slower than the fake stuff and the Seahawks are going to have to win a hard-hitting game where every yard is tough one. I don’t think they can. There’s no reason to expect the Seahawks to improve on a defensive performance which saw them give up 36 points, but it would be a shock if they score 41 against the Bears in Chicago.

From the Bears side, this is a game that they have to win. They can’t have any excuses against a 7-9 team that is so much better at home than on the road. The Seahawks snuck up on a complacent Saints team, I would be shocked if the Bears come out flat in this one. On a personal level, Jay Cutler has not yet been accepted fully into the brotherhood of the elite quarterback. A nice playoff run would go some way to remedying that, a loss to the Seahawks? Unthinkable.

I know, I know. I didn’t want to write about the Seahawks last week and I barely wrote anything this week. I have no analysis or numbers to point to. I just don’t think the Seahawks are that good. I have no faith. I’m taking the Bears to break the slipper at home.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

AFC Divisional Preview

NFL Playoff Preview: AFC Divisional Round

Ravens @ Steelers

The AFC is blessed with dream divisional matchups and it doesn’t get much better than Steelers v. Ravens. The division rivals will meet for the third time this season, having split the regular season series. The Ravens have already won in Pittsburgh this year and they’ll have to repeat the trick. It’ll be a lot tougher this time around; Big Ben wasn’t around for the Week 4 meeting in Pittsburgh, serving the last game of his suspension for extra-curricular activities. Big Ben did return for a Week 13 matchup, which the Steelers won, Roethlisberger’s sixth win in a row over the Ravens.

When you look at these two teams, you have to start, as they do, with defense. The Ravens D was increasingly dominant as the game wore on against Kansas City, holding the Chiefs to just 25 (!) yards in the second half. Baltimore forced five turnovers and the offense took advantage, scoring 10 points directly off of turnovers and adding another three after the Chiefs were stopped on 4th down at midfield. As good as this Ravens defense has been over the years, there’s no question that they’ve slowed down a bit with age. The speed of that defense, especially the front-7 is a worry for the Ravens, both in containing running backs and getting to the quarterback. The Ravens inability to get sacks, they ranked in the bottom-6 in the league in that category, could be huge against the Steelers offense, whos biggest weakness is an inability to protect the quarterback. Jamal Charles averaged over 9 yards-per-carry in the Wildcard Round and looked too fast for the Ravens to handle…only the Chiefs know why he only ran nine times. Rashard Mendenhall has been kind of hot and cold this year, but he still finished with over 1200 yards and 13 TDs. Mendenhall definitely has the ability to make plays and is the kind of quick, elusive back that could trouble the Ravens. If they are forced to bring a safety into the box to stop the run, they open themselves up to Mike Wallace, one of the fastest receivers in the game, over the top.

On the other side of the ball, the Steelers had a first round bye, and their defense needed it. The Steelers limped into the playoffs with injuries to safety Troy Polamalu, linebacker Lamar Woodley with DE Aaron Smith. All of those guys are important to that defense, but having Polamalu, in particular, as healthy as possible is huge for the Steelers. Polamalu is the best safety in football and when he’s playing, his value to the Steelers cannot be overstated. For everyone out there who has any questions regarding Joe Flacco, this is the game for them to be answered, one way or the other. We’ve seen this year that to have success against the Steel Curtain, you have to be able to go through the air. Good luck running the ball against a 3-4 defense that boasts maybe the best linebacking corps in football. I think the Ravens success or failure will be on Joe Flacco’s shoulders and whether or not he can make plays with his arm.

Those of you who read my Wildcard preview, first of all I appreciate all 8 of you, second of all you know I’m not sold on this Ravens team. They beat the Chiefs soundly, but I don’t see a repeat in Pittsburgh. I just think that all of the Ravens weaknesses: not explosive on the outside on offense, can’t get to the quarterback, general old-and-slowness…they all play right into the Steelers hands. The Steelers offense has fast, young, playmakers in Mendenhall and Wallace; the Ravens aren’t fast on D. The Steelers struggle to avoid sacks, but the Ravens don’t get sacks. The Ravens don’t get big plays from their receivers; you have to go outside against the Steel Curtain. Don’t get me wrong, history and experience tells us that this game will be a war of attrition, probably settled by a single score, but I think the Steelers are the better team, have home field advantage, have the better matchup, have the better quarterback and will win this game on Saturday.

Jets @ Patriots

AFC Divisional Game #2…Bitter Divisional Rivalry #2…could it be any better? The Jets come into this game riding high after beating Peyton Manning and the Colts in Indianapolis. They’ve beaten 1b of the best quarterbacks of this generation, now they’ll have to deal with 1a.

The Jets looked pretty good against the Colts and it never really felt like they were going to lose the game. With that said, they still had to go out and win it and having Mark Sanchez lead a last minute drive to win the game is just what Jets fans will have wanted to see. For all they did well against the Colts, the Jets should be a little concerned with where they’re at right now. They had a lot of success on the ground against the Colts, Revis Island was in full effect, holding Reggie Wayne to 1 catch, Freeney and Mathis were nearly invisible and the Jets looked like the better team. What’s wrong with that? For all those good things to be true, playing against a Colts team that wasn’t really all that good this year, a Jets team that was really for real would not have needed a last second field-goal to win the game. That may sound nit-picky, but they’re not getting ready to play the rest, they’re getting ready to play the best in Bill Belichek, Tom Brady and the Patriots.

It’s funny. The Patriots feel like they’ve been around forever, while the Jets have really come to life in the last couple of seasons, but the Jets are really the veteran team in this game. Apart from the quarterbacks, the Jets have a lot more experience, which could help them in the playoff atmosphere. I think the Pats are better, but I could see a circumstance where the Jets come in warmed up after their Wildcard game and surprise the Patriots a little bit. To do that, the Jets have to keep Brady off the field, especially early. We know Brady’s not getting rattled, you can’t say the same for a lot of those guys on the Patriots sideline.

Once Brady is in rhythm, he’s almost impossible to stop and this Pats offense is one that is suited to do well against the Jets. The Jets have great corners in Revis and Cromartie, we’ve seen Revis take big-time receivers completely out of the game time after time. The thing about the Patriots is that their best receiver is whichever one is open. They can hit so many different guys in the passing game, from Deion Branch to Wes Welker, the young tight-ends and Danny Woodhead out of the backfield. They don’t have one guy that Revis can zone in on and really hurt them. If they do, it’s Wes Welker, but he’s not the kind of guy that Revis excels covering. Revis is best against the more traditional, big and fast guys, something the Pats don’t have.

I’d be really surprised if this game isn’t a lot closer than the previous meeting, but the Jets are up against it to win in New England. The Pats just look like a really complete team and I’m not sure Mark Sanchez is ready to win this game yet. Sanchez hasn’t been getting a lot of help lately either…Santonio Holmes has dropped a lot of balls recently and Dustin Keller spent more time crying for PI calls than catching passes against the Colts. Is the Jets running game and defense enough to beat the Pats? I don’t think so, I’ll take the Patriots at home in this one.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

NBA Ruminations

Ruminations on the NBA

1.a. Is it just me or is that Laker purple and gold starting to look a little outdated?

1.b. On a separate and completely unrelated note, how did I never notice how dope the Clippers logo is before?

1.c. I’m setting the over/under on when the Clippers are the more relevant LA team at 3 years. I’ll take the under. I can see it now. Jan. 1, 2012 will be an unprecedented news day. The moon will eclipse the sun, Las Vegas will freeze over and the Clippers will leapfrog the Lakers in the Western Conference standings with a home win over their city rivals at Staples.

2. What’s up with Lebron and his constant flip-flopping on the dunk contest? First there weren’t any dunkers worthy of his competition, then Blake Griffin comes around and LeBron wants no part. Now he’s talking about the ‘wear and tear on my body.’ From a dunk contest, give me a break. If you don’t want to do it, just say so. I think LeBron just likes the attention, having people fawning over him begging him to enter. As is so often the case, I have no problem at all with LeBron’s actions, just how he goes about them.

3. How do some of these trades happen? Stan: Ok, I’ll give you a declining, injury prone, underachieving 2-guard, a shut-down defender who's not a great defender and an above average backup centre for your best player not named Steve Nash and a guy who’s way more valuable to me than any other team in the league, including yours. Alvin: Hmm, there’s no way I’m seeing you in the playoffs, why not? Highway robbery.

NFL Playoff Preview - Wildcard Weekend


Jets @ Colts

These teams meet in the playoffs for the second straight season, but with a totally different dynamic. The perception of these two teams has really changed since last season. The Colts aren’t a Super Bowl favourite anymore and really struggled with injuries this season, losing Bob Sanders, Dallas Clark and Austin Collie. Injury problems are nothing new in Indianapolis, but a struggling Peyton Manning is not something Colts fans are used to. The Colts picked up their game late-on to hold on to their division crown, but this is still the most vulnerable Colts team we’ve seen in a while. The Jets are almost a perfect polar opposite of the Colts, but come into the playoffs with a similar feel. Last season the Jets were the supreme underdogs, backing into the playoffs thanks to the Colts quest for imperfection. This year could not have been more different. Big offseason acquisitions Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and LaDanian Tomlinson had the New York hype machine operating at full capacity. Things haven’t really gone as planned for the Jets. Their defence is nowhere near as good as it was and Mark Sanchez has struggled to produce consistently at quarterback. Like the Colts, the Jets aren’t where they thought they’d be as a team this season. These teams are like a couple of old Alfa Romeos, they could perform beautifully and look fantastic…or they could burst into flames. I think this one comes down to has it going on the day, because neither team is a great matchup for the other. The Colts have shown recently that they can stop the run, but they have to really sell out to do it. On his day, Mark Sanchez can take advantage of that, but his days have been few and far between this season. On defence, the Jets look like they have the personnel to counter the Colts receivers, but they’ve struggled to get to the quarterback this season and their linebackers could struggle to contain the Colts running backs catching out of the backfield. This is really hard to call, but I think the Jets just edge this and take revenge for last year. They have more balance on both sides of the ball, but it’ll be up to Mark Sanchez to keep them on schedule and Peyton Manning off the field.

Ravens @ Chiefs

This one is really interesting and this is the only game where there is a possibility of a bit of an upset. There aren’t a lot of people giving the Chiefs much credit coming into the playoffs, while the Ravens have been a popular Super Bowl pick for much of the season. I don’t see that at all. The Ravens are not in the same class as the Patriots and even the Steelers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost this. The Chiefs are an excellent home team, going 7-1 at Arrowhead this year. Their one loss came in Week 17 against the Raiders. The Chiefs were disappointing in that one, getting blown out by a Raiders team that will miss the playoffs with playoff seeding on the line. I’m not overly concerned with that loss though. Yes, the Chiefs had seeding on the line, but I think, psychologically, the Raiders had more motivation to win that game. The Chiefs were already in the playoffs and when you’ve never been there before, as is the case with most of the team, I’m not sure you’re overly concerned with seeding, you’re just happy to be in. Conversely, the Raiders needed the win to get to .500 and were playing a division rival. Week 17 will have felt way more important to the team that won’t be playing again this season. Taking a look at how these teams matchup, a lot of football analysts have talked about how, to play defence against the Chiefs, you need a shutdown corner to take away Dwayne Bowe so you can concentrate on stopping a great running game. I’m not sure the Ravens have that shutdown guy and, in general, that Ravens defence is not what it once was. In my opinion, the Ravens are one of the most overrated teams in the NFL and it starts with the perception of their defence. The Ravens D is loaded with superstar names, how many superstar players it has is a different matter. It’s still a very good unit, but are they great? I haven’t seen it. On offence, the Ravens have a lot of talent but they aren’t very explosive, which plays right into the Chiefs hands. The Chiefs want to control the clock and pace of the game. If you can put points up you can disrupt their rhythm and they aren’t the same team. I’m not sure the Ravens can do that unless Ray Rice makes some big plays. I think the Ravens are the better team overall, but Chiefs have a great chance to make some noise at home and I’m picking them to upset the Ravens in a nail biter.


Packers @ Eagles

This is probably the most mouth-watering prospect on Wildcard weekend. The Packers beat the Eagles in the season opener, but so much has changed for both teams since then. The Packer have lost all kinds of key players to injury, but seem to be peaking at just the right time, coming into the playoffs on the back of two big wins in must win games against dangerous teams in the Giants and Bears. Their defence has played really well this year and I think that match-up, the Packers D vs. Michael Vick and the Eagles, is the one that will decide this game. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now, perhaps behind only Brady and Manning and arguably only Brady. He will make plays against anyone, running game or no running game. Last season he made all the plays, but the Packers D couldn’t do anything to stop Kurt Warner and the Cardinals and the Packers ended up losing that year in overtime. Rodgers fumbled that ball, but it was the defence that lost the game, how they perform against the explosive Eagles defence will be the key to how this game turns out. They certainly have the personnel to have success against Vick. They have excellent pass rushers at every level of their defence, highlighted by Clay Matthews, and we’ve seen that the way to contain Vick is to put him under pressure. The Packers also have a lot of high-motor guys, which will help them keep Vick contained. The Eagles probably aren’t thrilled with the shape they are in coming into the playoffs. Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson have both been banged up recently, but they did have a week of rest with and they will need to be at their best to beat a Packers team that has all the momentum. The Eagles rely on big plays and I think the conditions will be a big factor in this one. Wind, rain or snow could really slow this team down, and they’re all about speed. We saw in the game against Chicago what happens when the Eagles offence gets slowed down. All of a sudden Vick can become a liability with turnovers and they’re not nearly as effective. Hopefully the weather cooperates, because if both these teams are on song, we’ll be in for a classic. It’s too close to call so I won’t even try. Normally I would just pick the team I like better, but as a neutral how can you not like both these teams?

Saints @ Seahawks

Should I even bother writing this one? I’m on a plane right now and I’m struggling to motivate myself to keep typing in a less than ideal position. Honestly though, I can’t see any way the Saints don’t win this one. The Seahawks have a great home crowd, but that can only count for so much and the gulf in class between these two teams is huge. The Saints have been pretty under the radar this year, what with the Young Bucs and the Falcons winning the division. Make no mistake; this Saints team is very much for real. They had a bit of a hangover at the beginning of the season, but they’ve rallied and are back to their best, as they proved by going into Atlanta and beating a Saints team that is great at home and was trying to lock up a first round bye. The defence isn’t forcing as many turnovers, but may actually be playing better than last year, Drew Brees is still a superstar quarterback with a bevy of weapons, Reggie Bush will only get healthier and Sean Payton is still calling the plays. Super Bowl winners traditionally struggle the next year, but I don’t get that sense of complacency from the Saints and they’ll be dangerous again this year. On the other hand, the Seahawks truly backed into the playoffs, despite ending the season with a playoff and division clinching win over the Rams in Seattle. I was really disappointed by that game, by the way. I knew I wasn’t going to be watching the two best teams, but I kinda thought we might see a bit of a barn burner. You know, thrills and spills. Instead it looked like what it was: a game between two 7-9 teams that has very little bearing on the big picture. The Seahawks will come to play, but I don’t know if that will stop them getting blown out.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010: Year in Review

When I sat down at my computer, the idea was to write two columns: the best things in 2010 and the worst. I thought I’d start with the good things, just to prove to myself that I’m not a cynical wet blanket. After staring at the wall for a couple of minutes, I couldn’t really think of anything from the previous year in sport that really stood out to me. It was a year of scandals and disappointments, sports icons fell down to earth at an alarming rate and the ‘best’ stories of the year were good in the worst kind of way, the way that a car accident in interesting. Maybe I am just too cynical, but take a look back with me and reminisce about the year that was.

The year began with conclusion of the 2010 NFL season. What problem could I possibly have with the beleaguered city of New Orleans winning its first Super Bowl, having a much needed day of happiness and celebration after the struggles of Katrina? No problem. But what stood out to me from those playoffs was not how good they were, but how much better they should have been. As I wrote at the time, the NFL had to change the overtime rules because football is just not a sudden death kind of sport, especially if you allow field goals. Playing that way changes the whole dynamic of the sport and makes for anti-climactic endings to great games. In this case it was in the NFC Championship game between the Saints and Vikings that ended with a whimper. A true classic saw two great teams go back and forth for four quarters. At the end of regulation, Bret Favre, enjoying what wasn’t even really a renaissance season, since it was his best ever, threw an interception to cost the Vikings a field goal attempt to win it. As we moved into overtime, we should have been treated to more of the same: two great offences, two great defences, two great quarterbacks slugging it out for the chance to go the Super Bowl. What did we get? The Saints win a coin toss, get a good kick return, make two first downs, get a pass interference call, then kick a field goal. I’m sure fans in New Orleans were going crazy, I’m sure fans in Minnesota were heartbroken, fans everywhere else couldn’t help but feel pretty letdown by a limp ending to a great game. You don’t want to see the Saints try and score a touchdown, see if Bret Favre can redeem himself? Of course you do, but that’s not what you get. Thankfully the rules have been changed and I really like how they’ve structured the format. The new rules will keep teams playing real football until the end which will give these great games the endings they deserve.

From the Super Bowl we moved on to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The Olympics are good right? Peoples from different cultures coming together, beautiful moments of life-long dreams coming true, it’s all good stuff. But then a Georgian luger dies before the games had even started. Not only a tragedy in its own right, the accident also turned every event on the altered track into a joke since the course was too short to mean anything. The games themselves moved on and we as sports fans, and Canadians or Americans or whatever had all those good moments we were expecting, but does any of that make up for some poor guy dying at the Olympics?

Winter turned to spring and then summer and before we knew it, the FIFA World Cup was upon us. I’m a football fan first and foremost, so the World Cup really is heaven for me…a full month of great entertainment almost every day, and a reasonable excuse for drinking by before noon regularly and showing up late for just about anything. “Sorry I’m late boss, I was just watching the Brazil game.” No problem at all? Excellent. So it’s summer and I’m watching the World Cup with a big smile on my face, but then the group games are a little disappointing, not really a good one out of all of them. That’s fine, I think to myself, it’ll heat up in the elimination rounds. But then…it doesn’t. Brazil v. Netherlands was quite good, not great, but good. Ghana v. Uruguay was incredibly exciting, but I was still waiting for that really quality World Cup experience of watching two sides that are a really good match for each other playing quality football. It never came. The final was one of the worst I have ever seen. The Netherlands looked like they didn’t belong on the same field as the Spanish. The tactics were an embarrassment to Dutch football…Total Football? More like Mixed Martial Arts.

While I’m on football, let’s not forget the 2010 African Cup of Nations, memorable for the machine gun attack that the Togolese team was subjected to. The Togolese withdrew from the tournament, completely reasonable…and were banned from the next two for it! Really? Yes, really.

Was absolutely everything bad? No. Some sports carried on their way, but nothing happened that stood out at all. The Lakers predictably won the NBA title, Chelsea, Barca and Inter Milan predictably won their respective leagues. Yawn.

Even when the competitions themselves aren’t that great there are always great individual performances to savour. Let me think…what individual performances stood out in 2010? I’m not going to expand on any of these because, quite frankly, I’m sick of talking and reading about them. Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a college girl in a dirty bar, Michael Vick played good, after being in jail for torturing and killing dogs, Bret Favre proved he is completely selfish and over-dramatic, obliterating what shreds of good will he had left with NFL fans, then we found out he sent pictures of his penis to some girl while he was with the Jets, while his wife fought cancer, Tiger Woods turned out to not be the straightest arrow ever, but a sex-addict adulterer, whose numerous spotlight-hungry bimbo girlfriends we then had to put up with for far too long, Bret Favre’s consecutive starts streak ended, resulting in the ESPN football analysts engaging in one of the most nauseating displays of jock-riding ever seen on TV, Gilbert Arenas threatened his teammate with a gun, every baseball player took steroids, Lance Armstrong might have actually taken steroids. I almost forgot, Lebron James’ Decision 2010.

There’s a theme somewhere to found in this article, and I promise you it is not contrived at all. I’m not remembering things in a negative light to make for a consistent argument. This is absolutely how I feel about everything mentioned here. Here's hoping 2010 was better for you than it was for me. Here’s hoping 2011 is a new year.