Sunday, January 29, 2006

Carolina Tops Duke.....Should Become New #1


Right below is my preview of the game....written Saturday night.

Duke and North Carolina will meet in Cameron Indoor Stadium for an epic battle.

It will pit the #1 ranked Blue Devils against the #2 ranked Tar Heels.

But, while the name "Coach K" will be on the court.....the actual Coach K won't be on the court.


It's women's basketball....fool!

The Lady Blue Devils and the Lady Tar Heels go head to head what could one of the best basketball games in the school's history.  And that includes the mens teams.  Like I said....these are the top two ranked teams in the nation....and the ONLY teams who have not suffered a defeat this season.  One will remain Sunday night.

Duke has fashioned themselves into a sorta powerhouse women's hoops program.  They've had great players and great seasons....but they have yet to get the NCAA Championship.  North Carolina has.  The Tar Heels were champs in 1994 when a pretty quick point guard by the name of Marion Jones led a star studded team [and one of the most clutch shots in college basketball history] to the national title.  The Heels still are a tough program....though not as dominant as Duke has been of late.

That could be changing.  Last season, Carolina ended a 12-game losing streak to the Devils.  They liked it so much...they beat Duke 2 more times, including a win in the ACC tournament and a win in Cameron.  The first Carolina win was the first loss for Duke in ACC play in 33 games. 

There are stars in this game.  As in any kind of Carolina-Duke game....the point spot will be key.  Ivory Latta [UNC] and Lindsey Harding [Duke] will be the marquee matchup.  Both are lightning quick.  Latta is more of a scorer.....Harding is more of a floor leader. 

The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 7pm on Sunday night. 


Below is the outcome of the game.....with Carolina winning 74-70.

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -- Now the fun starts for North Carolina, the last remaining unbeaten team in Division I.

"We know that we can't let down in any way, shape or form," coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "You've got that big zero on you."

Not to mention No. 1.

Erlana Larkins had 17 of her season-high 23 points in the second half, Ivory Latta added 17 points and a steadying influence down the stretch and the third-ranked Tar Heels rallied to beat No. 2 Duke 74-70 Sunday night.

Since the Blue Devils knocked off No. 1 Tennessee earlier in the week -- and the Lady Vols lost again a few days later -- the winner in the renewal of this Tobacco Road rivalry was all but assured of moving to the top spot when The Associated Press poll is released Monday.

"I've been doing it 31 years, this is nice," said Hatchell, who led the Tar Heels to the NCAA championship in 1994. "I'd like to have it the last game of the season. It happened to me one time before, and there's nothing sweeter than that."

It would be the first time North Carolina has been No. 1, and denying Duke (20-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) the same honor likely will feel just as good. The Tar Heels (20-0, 7-0) continued the best start in school history with their fourth straight victory over the Blue Devils.

The rematch comes Feb. 25.

"This was by far the most physical game, and you can't just turn it on in one game," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "You have to prepare for that, I think, every single day in practice. I know that we will be better because of this game."

Camille Little scored 14 points for North Carolina, while teammate La'Tangela Atkinson tied a career high with 15 rebounds and added two clinching free throws in the waning seconds. Mistie Williams led the Blue Devils with 16 points, and Monique Currie finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

The Tar Heels had to work for this one. Duke led 40-27 at halftime and still was ahead by 12 midway through the second half. But most of that came with Larkins on the bench in foul trouble, and when she returned, the game changed.

"We were expecting them to come back," Currie said. "They're a really good team, so I wasn't surprised."

Larkins had nine points in the first 4 minutes following the break, then helped North Carolina come back from that double-digit deficit.

After Little had consecutive layups, Larkins worked inside for two of her own to make it 58-54 as the Blue Devils suddenly went cold. Abby Waner momentarily stopped the drought with a jumper, but Larkins helped free Atkinson with a screen on the ensuing possession to keep the lead at four.

"We just came out and played with the intensity we didn't have in the first half," Larkins said. "We got out in the passing lanes and got on our players, and our help defense was good."

The Tar Heels tied it for the first time since midway through the first half on a putback by reserve LaToya Pringle, and it was 64-64 when Larkins was fouled with 3:11 remaining. She calmly converted both shots at the line, and Alex Miller drove for two more points.

"We stayed tight with each other, we tried to be confident and positive," Little said. "We just stuck together, and we knew we had to keep playing hard. We knew that we could come back and win the game."

Atkinson scored again off an assist from Larkins to make it 72-69 with 22 seconds on the clock, and when Williams made the first of two free throws, the margin was two. She intentionally missed the next one, but Atkinson was there to corral the miss and was fouled.

"I had a talk with coach Hatchell before the game, and basically she told me to rebound and play defense," Atkinson said. "I was just focused on that on the ride over and stayed focused throughout the game."

As she headed to the line, Latta began strutting a bit, clearly proud of the effort she and her teammates showed in bouncing back. Atkinson swished both free throws, and Currie missed a desperation 3 just before the buzzer.

"I'm just happy it ended like that," Latta said with a smile.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Now The NFL Network Has Everything....


"Got NFL games?"
"No...not on now man."
"It be a lot cooler if you did!"

The NFL announced that their NFL network will televise 8 games next year.  These games will be played on Thursday and Saturdays.  The first game will be on Thanksgiving night [a third game added to the normal Dallas and Detroit games]...then they'll televise games each for the remainder of the season. 

The games will be available on a local station for teams playing in the game [sort of like what happened when ESPN showed Sunday night games]. 

Tags said: "After discussing this new package of games with many potential partners, we decided it would be best presented on our own, high-quality NFL Network, which has developed so rapidly that the time had come to add live regular-season games to the programming.  In the end, we wanted these games on our network, which is devoted 24/7 to the sport of football, and not on a multi-sport network."

Which means that they already have games on ESPN [which ABC owns], NBC, CBS and Fox and the pickin's are pretty slim.  It makes sense, financially, to keep the rights to those games....since this is a new package anyways.

However, the point of all this will be to put the NFL Network on many more cable company's lineups.  Right now, the NFL Network is in 40 million homes.  The fact that these NFL games will be on this station will assuredly force companies to get the network. 

Of course, any football fan worth his meddle MUST have the NFL Network anyways.  The network first premiered two years ago on, mainly, DirecTV.  Then, NFL Total Access was pretty much the only original show on air [everything else came from NFL Films]....and it was essentially Rich Eisen running around trying to interview anyone he can grab.  Now, the show is sort of the "SportsCenter" of the NFL....getting into places that ESPN could only dream [the lockerroom hookup is awesome]. 

And, again, this shows the NFL's strength.  The NBA has had a network for quite a few years [it used to be just NBA TV] and only last year started showing live games.  Of course, those "live games" are just airings of other network's feeds of the games [a Laker game on NBATV may be swiped from FSN-West].  MLB is looking to launch a network soon. 

Friday, January 27, 2006

Wally World Moves To Boston

                are the particulars:

CELTICS GET:  Wally Szczerbiak, Michael Olowokandi, Dwayne Jones, 1st round draft pick. 

TIMBERWOLVES GET:  Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Marcus Banks, Justin Reed, two 2nd round draft picks

WHAT THE CELTICS REALLY GET....They get Szczerbiak, who will be a nice perimeter shooter for a team that could use that kind of compliment to Paul Pierce [that is if Pierce is still around].  The problem lies defensively...since neither of these guys are good enough to deal with some of the top swingmen in the Eastern Conference.  The C's also get the Kandi Man, which isn't as great as it sounds.  Olowokandi is regarded as the biggest #1 bust of all time and has done nothing to make anybody think otherwise in Minnesota.  Heck, not only does he suck on the court....but he was starting to be a problem off the court as well.  The best thing about him is his expiring contract...which will give the C's some cap room this summer or they can sign-and-trade him away, getting something in return [Blount has 4-yrs and $28M left].  They will also get the Wolves 1st rounder in the future...which could be a good pick, seeing how the Wolves are set up. 

WHAT THE WOLVES REALLY GET.....they get an athletic scorer [Davis] to revolve around Kevin Garnett.  They needed someone who can create his own shot like that and adds the ability to fast break a bit better.  And that's about as good as this deal gets.  Davis can't shoot like Wally can, and that really hurts the Wolves perimeter offense.  Mark Blount isn't much better than Olowokandi.  And he's got four years and $28M remaining on his they lose Kandi's possible cap space and essentially wasted his trade value.  If this thing don't work out....expect some more rumblings from the KG camp. 

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Artest Says "King Me!"


The awkwardness is over...and now gamblin' time comes.  Indiana is gambling that they can survive without Ron Artest.  Sacramento is gambling that they can with him. 

I think it is a gamble worth taking for both teams.  For Indiana, it somewhat brushes away two years of lint that's been sticking around for too long.  I mean, how many games has Artest even played for the Pacers over the past two years???   Indiana stood by Artest even as he was dubbed the most horrible player to ever suit up in the NBA.  Artest repays them by coming back this year and telling the team he doesn't want to be around any more. 

He heads to Sacramento, now, despite yesterday saying he didn't.  That's all moot now.  What isn't is what will become of the Kings?  The Kings have been known as, well, soft over the past several seasons.  They've had a guy who's wife runs his life....a guy who clips his fingernails on the bench....a guy who has been known to shy away from the clutch situations....and a center who's best defense was falling down.  Artest will bring toughness.  Infectious toughness.  The kind of guy that will help elevate everyone's defense around him.  Not so much as a shot blocking center would....but in a sense that he won't need as many switches or doubles as Peja did.

Ah.  Peja.  The antithisis of Artest.  Peja isn't known as a defensive presence nor as a tough cookie.  But, a couple of years ago....he was the NBA's 2nd leading scorer.  Maybe a change in scenery will do him good.  Especially to a team that's been used to setting screens to free up Reggie Miller. 

But what about the teams?  The Kings get one of the prized players that the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors were all bidding for.  Those teams are all Pacific division rivals...and the teams that the Kings will be battling for playoff position with.  For Indiana, they get a Reggie Replacement.  Sure, they lose some on defense...but they get a pure shooter that can stretch out the defense and allow Jermaine O'Neal to work inside.  And, it isn't like they'll miss Artest they got someone to take his spot. 

Let's see how these dice roll. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sportz Discussing Kobe's 81 pt Game....and Other Things

                        While waiting for the Pacers to comply with his trade request, Ron Artest has taken the time to check in on a few games in L.A.

Sportz Link-A-Thon.

*Go to Sportz Assassin on Kobe's 81-Point Game to hear me discuss the matter, it's place in history as well as the Lakers hopes for this season. 

*Speaking of that buddy YCS has placed it as one of his Moments In Time.  Check it out...and think about those other moments he discusses. 

*"PIGSKIN ASSASSIN" by The SPORTZ ASSASSIN:  Check out my 40 STOPS ON THE WAY TO SUPER BOWL XL.  Right can check out #29-40 [or....numbers XXIX - XL...for those people smitten by the Roman numerals].  Every morning, four more stops get added. 

* - NCB - Bicyclist killed in collision with Boston College team bus:  Boston College, which is in the Triangle [Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill] to play the UNC Tar Heels, had their team bus hit a cyclist and kill the rider.  Click the link to read about it. 

*Marty Burns: Kings deal for Artest called off late :  The deal that would've sent Ron Artest to Sacramento for Peja Stojakovic is apparantly dead, for the moment.  Artest said he didn't want to play for the Sacto rejected the deal.  Now the Pacers' brass has summoned Artest to explain why he demands a trade, yet doesn't want to honor the deals.  Click for more.

*Isiah Thomas sued for sexual harrassment :  The Knicks executive may be horrible at trades...but at least he has a "touch" for the ladies. 

*Shakeup begins at top:  The Reds new owner has made his first big move....firing GM Dan O'Brien...with no clear favorite to replace him. 

*DieCast Dude asks "Is There Anything NOT Going On In NASCAR Right Now?".  Seems not with that huge announcement that Toyota is looking to participate in the '07 season.  BTW, I'm gonna have to holla at Die Cast about my upcoming NASCAR fantasy draft.  For those non gear-heads....if you get a shot at getting in one of these is very, very, very fun. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Mario Lemieux To Retire......Again


Mario Lemieux is set to retire from the NHL for the 2nd time. 

The announcement of his retirement isn't really shocking.  He hasn't played a game in 5 weeks due to an irregular heartbeat....and he's pretty much been a year-to-year case.  What shocks you is that this may be the end for a lot more in Pittsburgh.

His greatness is undeniable [and I still love hockey's system of putting the Greatest players in the Hall Of Famer after one season out...hence Mario's Hall status].  In his first tour of duty...he won MVP awards, won scoring titles, won Stanley Cups.  Just as people place Wayne Gretzky a comfortable #1 among the all time greats.....Mario is a comfy #2.

His second tour of duty has been a more admirable one.  He came back from cancer, hip ailments and heart problems to keep on playing.  Unlike many people who come back for a 2nd or 3rd time....he truly did it for the love of the game.  And the love of his Penguins.  He was the first major sports star to buy the team that he was playing for. 

And that's where the story gets sad.  Lemieux did all this to keep the Pens in Pittsburgh.  He, and a group of investors, bought the Penguins out of bankrupcy court in 1999...and [no pun intended] the franchise has been skating on thin ice ever since.  The team has been horrible and a money pit.  The lone bright spot was when Lemieux stepped down from the owner's box [yet was still the owner], strapped on the skates and helped the team get to the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals.  That's the last time they made the playoffs.

For the last 5 years, the lone reason to watch a Pens game was that Mario Lemieux was out there.  Even as the team floundered...he was still out there trying to do his thing.  The team has seemed to have found his replacement....The Next Great One, Sydney Crosby.

But Pens fans can't fall too much in love with him.  Lemieux has seen the writing on the wall....and as much as he wants to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh.....he can't.  Barring a miracle that would allowfor an arena with a casino built inside....the Pens are gone.  Maybe as soon as after the 2006-2007 season.  So Mario stepped down as CEO and wants to sell the team.

He doesn't want to be the owner that relocates the Penguins.

It's heartbreaking...because you know that Mario wanted to make this work.  And, in reality, he did for a bit.  This team was almost relocated or just folded when he decided to buy them.  How many athletes have that much love for their team or their city?  He could just as easily sat back, been an elderstatesman and just been a legendary face of the NHL.  But he wanted to have NHL hockey in Pittsburgh. 

It still could happen.  If that casino thing goes thru...the Pens may actually stay in Pittsburgh for a long time.  If not, there are out-of-town bidders for the franchise, that will most likely honor the Pens lease with the Mellon Arena [aka The Igloo] which is up in 2008....then bounce for Kansas City, Las Vegas or wherever the bidders want to go. 

On a personal note, I hope the team stays and the new owners keep Lemieux around the team in some aspect.  I hate to know that the NHL can have teams in Tampa, Miami, Raleigh, Nashville and Phoenix.....but not one in Pittsburgh.  Sure, the Pens aren't the greatest franchise ever in the NHL......

....Mario just made them look that way.

Monday, January 23, 2006

40 Stops On The Way To Super Bowl XL


Over on my "PIGSKIN ASSASSIN" by The SPORTZ ASSASSIN blog, I will be having 4 points of interest surrounding the game each day until the Super Bowl.    Please check it out each day for the newest info I throw out there. 

Duke and North Carolina Can Come Together For a Common Cause

Students Complete 2 1/2-Day Hoops Game

Duke, UNC Students Complete 2 1/2-Day Basketball Game, Finishing With Expected World Record

The Associated Press

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Students from Atlantic Coast Conference rivals Duke and North Carolina completed their 2 1/2-day basketball game Monday, finishing with an expected world record for the longest continuous game.

Duke won 3,688-3,444. The game began at 8 a.m. Saturday and ended at 6 p.m. Monday, marking 58 straight hours in Fetzer Gymnasium on the loser's Chapel Hill campus.

The 24 students from the two schools nearly doubled a pair of similar reported world records. The Guinness World Records' Web site listed the record as 30 hours, 12 minutes set in Nebraska in 2004. Game organizers said they were later informed by Guinness of a more recent record of 33 hours, 35 minutes, set in Germany last April. They passed both marks Sunday.

The students also competed to raise the most money for the Hoop Dreams Basketball Academy, a nonprofit that uses basketball to help improve the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses. Organizers said the marathon raised nearly $60,000, short of their $80,000 target.



                   Kobe Bryant

This is the most insane thing I've ever typed on this blog:  Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night. 

Yeah.  81 points.

He was 28-for-46 from the field....including 7-of-13 from the three-point arc.  He also hit 18-of-20 free throws.  Oh, and for you haters out there....he did have 2 assists.

Only Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game in Hershey, PA in 1962 tops Kobe's mark.  It is so amazing that Kobe's feat is in that Wilt category of scoring.  Before the night started....Wilt owned the top FOUR scoring marks in NBA history.  Now Kobe has #2.  The #3 all time mark, Wilt scoring 78 points in 1961, took place in a game that featured 3 overtimes. 

This, obviously, also set the Los Angeles Lakers record for points in a game.....breaking Elgin Baylor's mark of 71 set in 1960. 

Kobe is now just the fifth player to score at least 70 points in a game....joining Wilt, Baylor, David Thompson and David Robinson.  In Thompson's and Robinson's cases....those career games came on the final game of the season where they were trying to win scoring titles and were force fed the ball.  Not a regular season game in the middle of the season. 

Kobe scored 55 of those points in the second half....marking the 2nd best scoring half in NBA history.....second to Wilt's 59 in the second half of that 100 pt game.

That 55 pt second half is more points than any other NBA player has scored in an ENTIRE GAME!!!  Yep.  Allen Iverson scored 53 pts against Atlanta on December bucket less than what Kobe scored in the 2nd half!

There are now EIGHT games where someone scored 50+ points.  Kobe has done it FOUR of those times.  LeBron's done it twice;  Iverson and Vince Carter have done it once each. 

So far this season...there has been 88 times an NBA team hadn't scored at least 81 points in an entire game.  The Minnesota Timberwolves, who played earlier in the day, scored just 84. 

And what makes this even more that Kobe's season low was against the Raptors where he scored just 11 points in the Lakers' win. 

Since there is no video footage anywhere of Wilt's 100 point game....this will become the definitive scoring game your eyes will feast on for a long time.

Well, that is until Kobe goes after that 100 mark.  Hey, don't laugh that off!

FROM ENDORA60, a Utah Jazz fan: 

Sorry about everything, Kobe

Excuse our language, but what the hell is going on right now? We didn't watch this game, despite having plenty of time to. Saw
the headline this morning and we're actually visibly shaking.

Our love affair with hating Kobe Bryant is officially over as of this morning, washed away like ridiculous allegations from some young slut from Colorado.Washed away like so many silly jabs and pokes from the Big Getting Old.

Washed away like people washing their cars and saying, "man that Kobe Bryant can't wash a car as good as me."Washed away like a bunch of other stuff that we can't think of at the moment.

Kobe Bryant has done the impossible - he's made us happy for him, and he's made us want to root for him. Kobe Bryant is officially a legend.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

AFC/NFC Championship Game Recaps


STEELERS 34-BRONCOS 17 (Sportz 6-3).  The first half was completely owned by Pittsburgh who did everything right.  They controlled the ball.  They created two turnovers from Jake Plummer.  Ben Roethlisberger picked the Broncos secondary apart.  A fumble was overturned via replay.  And they got pressure on Plummer.  This game was nearly the exact same as the one they played in Indiana last week.  They jumped in the QBs face and that offense was nearly unstoppable.  They then hung on in the 2nd half to finish off the road win.

Denver essentially imploded.  Plummer fumbled the ball on a sack, then threw a horrible interception towards the end of the first half.  That made it nearly impossible for a team that hadn't stopped anyone on defense nor really had the ball at all on offense to mount a comeback from a 24-3 deficet.  The Broncos then became one-dimentional...but did make a strong run to get it to 27-17 and with the ball.  But, it was too little, too late. 

What the Steelers have done is nearly a miracle.  They are the first #6 seed to get to the Super Bowl since the format began in 1990.  They beat the #1, #2 and #3 seeds in the AFC playoffs....all on the road.  They beat up Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning and Jake Plummer.....Rudi Johnson, Edgerrin James and Mike Anderson....Chad Johnson, Marvin Harrison and Rod Smith.   They go to the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade [they've been in Super Bowl 10, Super Bowl 30 and Super Bowl 40] and their 6th trip overall to the big game. 

This is the fifth time in the last 7 years that the road team has won the AFC Championship game.  The AFC Champion has won 6 of the last 8 Super Bowls. 


SEAHAWKS 34-PANTHERS 14 (Sportz 6-4...ugh)    In what amounts to the mirror image of the AFC title game....the NFC Championship was decided fairly early.  This time, the Seahawks jumped all over the Panthers....controlled the clock and forced QB Jake Delhomme into two horrific early turnovers.  Now Seattle is in their first Super Bowl. 

The story here was how Seattle controlled both lines.  On offense, they did a pretty good job protecting Matt Hasselbeck and opening running lanes for Shaun Alexander.  The Panthers D-line had a tough time getting to Hasselbeck and when they did, Matt had scrambling lanes to pick up yards.  On defense, they shut down Carolina's run [knocking Nick Goins out was the clincher]...which allowed them to use coverages to stop Steve Smith.  That line also did an excellent job pressuring Delhomme, which led to those two early picks. 

Carolina did absolutely nothing on offense, their only TD coming on a Steve Smith punt return for a TD.  There are two Jake Delhommes...and the two cannot be any different.   The one going in had the best passer rating in the history of the NFL playoffs.  Instead, the bad one showed up, the one who makes bad throws and even worse decisions.  Not just those interceptions...but he missed a lot of open guys with passes above, behind or in front of them.  Going in they knew that the running game would be hindered, there had to be a big game from Jake, or at least not a tank job.  Delhomme played about as poorly as you can play. 

The defense wasn't much better, as Seattle routinely drove down the field on them.  Alexander walked all over them....and Hasselbeck picked them apart. 



On February 7th, EA Sports will be unveiling their newest football game....Arena Football.  It is a licensed game of the league featuring the teams of the AFL [past and present] and the Arena Bowl. 

The AFL game will feature all the pageantry of the league....the loud music, fireworks, rabid fans, etc.  Korn will be doing a lot of the soundtrack for the game. 

What won't be in the game is anmouncers.  One of the great qualities of EA Sports games is that they are presented in a TV format that many of us are used to [announcers, instant replays, etc].  This game focuses more on the action of the field and the sounds that entails.  It will be a noticeable difference with no commentary, so this is a risk that could backfire [especially if people end up prefering it]. 

The thing that is most amazing about this game is something called the "Telemetry".  What this does is " instantly get real-time information about your opponent. An in-game telemetry system provides an immediate review of scoring history, passing tendencies, and player health allowing you to capitalize on your opponent’s weaknesses."  Essentially guys will get dinged-up as the game goes along and could very well effect their play in the final quarter. 

What this will do is show you how your players [or their players] are feeling.  Maybe if you keep sending you WRs on deep routes, their legs will be a bit tired and this feature will show that to you.  Or if someone takes a big hit....his percentages will go down and it will effect how he performs.  And remember, most AFLers play on both sides. 

So what to expect?  Well, expect the Madden realistically structured football with the action of an NFL Street game.  Should be pretty good.

Watch a trailer for it here:  IGN: Arena Football

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Science Of The NFL Draft


We all know, by now, that Tom Brady was drafted in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL Draft.  Dude has only gone on to lead his team to three Super Bowl titles, two Super Bowl MVP awards and elite status in NFL circles.  That draft was really light on "star QBs"...or any QBs....and was the last draft that the #1 overall pick was not a quarterback [it was DE Courtney Brown].  Chad Pennington was the first QB taken with the 18th pick and was the lone signal caller in the first round.  But, Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn were selected ahead of Brady. 

So goes the draft.

And it isn't like that draft was a bust draft either.  The first round say Brown [who was sort of a bust in Cleveland but has been resurrected in Denver], LaVar Arrington, Chris Samuels, Jamal Lewis, Corey Simon, Thomas Jones, Plaxico Burress, Brian Urlacher, Bubba Franks, Deltha O'Neal, Julian Peterson, Sebastian Janikowski and Shaun Alexander in the top 20.  Of couse, so was Peter Warrick and Ron Dayne. 

So goes the draft.

Sometimes, being first isn't a good thing.  Sure, you get the pick of the litter...but there are times where the pick chooses you instead of you choosing the pick.  Houston has the #1 overall pick in the draft with the top three talents being a running back and two quarterbacks.  Well, just 4 years ago, the Texans used their first ever draft pick on David Carr, a QB, and just signed RB Domanick Davis to a multi-year extension.  Those are not really needs of this team.  As I've stated in my blog entry Hey, Texans....Don't Draft Vince Young!!, there are other options.

We all know those #1 draft picks.  Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Carr, Michael Vick, Brown, Tim Couch, Peyton Manning, Orlando Pace, Keyshawn Johnson, Kijana Carter and Dan Wilkinson were the last 12 top picks.  But those recent #2 picks weren't too bad either.  Ronnie Brown, Robert Gallary, Charles Rogers, Julius Peppers, Leonard Davis, LaVarr Arrington and Donovan McNabb.

Well, okay, Ryan Leaf, the late Darrell Russell, Rick Mirer, Blair Thomas and Tony Mandarich were #2 picks.  But so were Hall Of Famers Eric Dickerson, Lawrence Taylor, Tony Dorsett and Randy White and soon to be Hall Of Famer Marshall Faulk. 

But look at these conference championship games.   Matt Hasselbeck was the 187th pick of the 1998 draft.  Jake Plummer was the #42 pick [just 16 picks behind Jim Drunkenmiller].  Ben Roethlisberger was the #11 pick in the 2004 draft. 

Jake Delhomme...who is 5-1 in playoff games....wasn't drafted at all.

You don't necessarily have those blue chip QBs to be a champion nowadays.  As I said, Brady was a 6th rounder with three rings.  Brad Johnson was a 9th round selection in 1992....and he has a ring.  Trent Dilfer was a first rounder [#6 overall]...but he has a vagabond by the time he "led" the Ravens to a Super Bowl title.  And we all know the story of Kurt Warner. 

The last draft class that saw the top of QB taken get to the Super Bowl is Steve McNair....who was drafted 3rd overall in 1995.  The last one to win the Super Bowl is Troy Aikman...who was drafted with the top pick in 1989. 

So, Houston, New Orleans and the rest of you drafting for a QB....just remember these first round picks that never were:  Akili Smith, Cade McNown, Ryan Leaf, Jim Drunkenmiller, Heath Shuler, Rick Mirer, David Klingler, Dan McGwire, Todd Marinovich [the last two were drafted ahead of Favre] and Andre Ware.

Super Bowl XL???? How about Denver-Carolina



CREDENTIALS:  The Broncos ended the Patriots reign by beating them 27-13 last week.  The Steelers stunned the football world by beating the "invincable" Colts, 21-8. 

ODDS:  Broncos by 3

WTF???  Pittsburgh is the first #6 seed to make a Conference Championship game.  The last time both home teams won the conference championships was back in 1997 when the Patriots and Packers both won at home to earn trips to the Super Bowl. 

OUTLOOK:  This is the exact opposite of the game most people [and CBS] wanted....Pats-Colts.  Instead of a tired get two teams who, despite their pedigree, haven't sniffed Super Bowl success.  The Steelers came close last year, losing in this round to the Pats.  In 14 seasons as Steelers head coach, Bill Cowher has taken his team to the AFC Championship Game SIX times.  He is 1-4 in the other games.....all of which were played in Pittsburgh.  One of those, in 1998, was a loss to the Broncos, 24-21, which the Broncos went on the win the Super Bowl. 

Since that 1998 AFC Championship game....only one of the seven games played has been decided by less than 10 points.  It was 2002....a Steelers loss to the Patriots. 

There are a ton of key matchups....but the main one will be how the Steelers deal with Jake Plummer, and how Plummer performs accordingly.  Pittsburgh got pressure on Peyton Manning which forced the Colts into rushing plays....something not good for a timing offense.  Can they do the same to Plummer?  Well, the Broncos offense isn't as predicated on timing.....and Plummer is actually a better QB when he's on the move.  Denver will try to combat the Steeler pressure by designed rollouts for Plummer.  If Plummer can get the ball will force the safeties to play a bit back [something that they didn't have to worry as much aboutagainst Cincy or Indy].  If that happens, look for Denver to start running the ball effectively.

SPORTZ PICK:  This game will feature near mirror image teams.  Both want to run the football.  Both have solid D-lines that can stop the run and get in the QB's face.  Both QBs have a nice ability to scramble, buy time, and make something out of nothing.  Both team's secondarys have been hot over the past month.  But only one team can win.  My pick is the Denver Broncos.  Before the postseason began, I mentioned to a friend that Denver was the one "elite" team that still looked good in December.  The Colts and Bengals packed it in, while the Pats were winning a weak AFC East.  Not to mention that the Jags just seemed weak.  I just like the poise that Denver has displayed all year long [well, except Week 1] and I think it will pay off and vault Denver into the Super Bowl.  Broncos 24-20



CREDENTIALS:  The Seahawks upended the Redskins 20-10....while the Panthers overwhelmed that vaunted Chicago Defense 29-21 

ODDS:  Seahawks by 3

WTF???  This is a matchup of the two youngest NFC members.  The Seahawks have been in the NFC just a couple of years, while the Panthers have been around since 1995.   

OUTLOOK:  This has the makings of a great QB showdown.  Matt Hasselbeck has been the premiere QB in the NFC...and looked very sharp against a tough Skins defense last week.  Jake Delhomme is 5-1 in his playoff career, including wins in St. Louis, Philly, New York and Chicago.  Both QBs usually enjoy great protection, solid running games and an overachieving receiving corps.  Well, Carolina is small of the running game now...and Seattle has issues with WRs being dinged up [Jackson, Engram]. 

There are a ton of key matchups....but the main one will be how the Seahawks deal with Steve Smith.  With DeShaun Foster out, the Panthers will rely a bit more on Smith.  Now, it is easy to sit here and say that all Seattle has to do is this or that, but the fact of the matter is that Chicago was completely torched by him last why would the medoocre Hawks defense do much better??  Hard to say.  But if they can put a lasso on him, it greatly improves their chances of winning this game. 

The biggest mismatch will be in the the Panthers are breaking in Nick Goins while the Seahawks feature MVP and NFL rushing champion Shaun Alexander.  Of course, Alexander was knocked out of last week's he may not be at his best here.  The Panthers will try [read:  need] to contain Alexander on 1st downs and inside the redzone.  They cannot allow for him to have a big game.  Doing so will place Seattle in obvious passing situations where Carolina can bring the pressure and let that great secondary make some plays for them. 

SPORTZ PICK:  It sure looks as if evertything points Seattle's way.  Carolina has the advantage in 2 of the 3 phases of the game...defense and special teams....with the other one, offense, not being that far off Seattle's pace.  Yes, the travel to Seattle and dealing with that loud crowd will be an ordeal, but two years ago the Panthers went into a hostile Philly crowd and came away NFC Champions.  I think the same will happen here.  The Panthers will get a smidge of running ability from Goins that will keep the Seahawks honest enough that the passing attack will open up.. Remember this name: Ricky Proehl.  Panthers 27-21

Art Monk


I am 30 years my Golden Age of football was 1982-1992.  For a Redskins fan...the means Joe Gibbs, Darrell Green, Riggo, Charles Mann and Art Monk were my idols.  Joe Gibbs is in the Hall of Fame.  So is John Riggins.  Darrell Green will eventually be there.  Mann won't....but Monk should.  Art Monk is a finalist [again] for the Hall of Fame.  The fact that he isn't is a JOKE! 

When Monk retired, he held the NFL record for receptions, consecutive games with a reception and single season receptions.  Not bad.  Since then, Jerry Rice has smashed his career records [with guys like Chris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown also passing him] and the pass-crazy era of football was brought upon us.  So, just as the 1980s baseball players have problems with their smaller numbers by do many of the QBs and WRs of that same time periof of football. 

The fact one who finished his career before Art Monk could hold a candle to his career. 

No one currently in the Hall of Fame has caught more passes than him. 

He has the stats....he has the three Super Bowl rings [and was in a 4th]...and he is one of the classiest guys in the NFL.  The fact that you don't hear much whining from him says so. 

I always have referred to Monk as the "offensive lineman of receivers"....meaning he just did his job and never really drew attention to himself.  He was a possession he doesn't have the huge yards [though he is 9th] or TD numbers that critics crave.  He wasn't that electric deep ball threat or the gazelle-like Jerry Rice....but if you needed that first down, an 8-yard slant to Monk would do it.  And the fact that he was so good at that gave guys like Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark the ability to get those deep plays.

So, please......go to Elect Art Monk Petition and sign on the line to help show the "fame" of Art Monk.

Also, go to DC Sports Guy's newest blog,, and read up on Monk.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Pat Summitt Gets #900

PAT SUMMITT:  Pat Summitt won her amazing 900th game at Tennessee...extending her all-time wins lead for a NCAA basketball coach [Dean Smith is 2nd with 879 wins].  This may sound contradicting...but I really feel that Summitt would be the one female coach that could come into a men's program and command [and get] the respect she deserves.  However, I also believe that her 900 wins aren't as impressive as Smith's 879 or even Adolph Rupp's 876.  I do think it is apple and the landscape as a whole is different in both types of programs.  I don't mean that to dismiss her accomplishments...just to put it into some perspective.  But her 900-172 mark is quite remarkable!!

WHAT'S UP IN KENTUCKY??  College hoops, which is a religion there, has fallen on some hard times.  The Kentucky Wildcats just snapped a 3-game skid which saw two of those losses at of them to Vanderbilt which hadn't won in Lexington since the 1970s.  The Cats lack of a frontcourt may have been patched a bit with the return of Randolph Morris...but is it too little too late?  The SEC is in a bit of an upswing this year [but still not in that elite status yet] so winning games in conference will be tougher for a team that lost by 27 to a mediocre Kansas team. 

THIS AIN'T CONFERENCE USA!!!!  Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida are the 5 newest members of the Big East.....after Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College bolted for the ACC.  The five former C-USAers are a combined 7-15 in Big East play.  But of those 7 wins....Cincy had ones against DePaul and at Marquette, while Marquette has ones against DePaul and USF.  So they have one THREE wins against Big East schools.  The most impressive was Marquette's over UConn.  The other two were Louisville over Providence and DePaul over Notre Dame.  Those teams are a combined 1-7 in conference play. 

BAYLOR GETS TO PLAY:  Ten days ago, the Baylor Bears played their first game of the season....a 79-61 loss to Texas Tech.  After all the murderin' and coverin' up going on under the Mike Bliss Era, the Bears are banned from non-conference games this season.  That means that Baylor can only play a 16-game Big XII schedule.  That's it.  Their season opener was on January 11, the aforementioned loss.  Since then, they've lost two more, uncluding a 33-pt beating at Colorado.  Up next?  Texas and Oklahoma.  Eeesh. 

TORINO:  Just about three more weeks until the nation is swept up in the Winter Olympics.  Sorry, but I cannot.  Sure, I love the Olympics....but I'm not a big fan of curling, and I certainly don't care for figure skating.  Needless to say, I hope there is a bunch of hockey on....or the 70 different ways they can sled...errrr..."luge". 

Boy, Does It Pay To Have A Wealthy Owner


Say what you want about Daniel Snyder....but dude puts his money out there for this team.   Sure, it got us aging Bruce Smith, aging Deion Sanders and some guy named Steve Spurrier.  But it shows effort.

The Redskins currently have THREE head coaches, essentially, on their staff. 

Joe Gibbs will be entering Year Three of his return to DC...with Year Two a surprising success.  Entering the offseason, defensive assistant coach Gregg Williams was one of the top names on many teams' lists for their head coaching vacancies.  The Skins locked him up by giving him a pay increase comparable to what some head coaches make...$7.8M over three years and a $1M buyout if he is not named the Redskins' head coach when Joe Gibbs retires.  Excellent move, Danny Boy!!!

Now the Redskins bring in Al Saunders, who was a candidate for the Raiders and Bills head coaching gigs.  In the last 5 seasons, Saunders have kept the Chiefs as one of the elite offenses in the NFL despite injuries to Priest Holmes and Trent Green.  Saunders will be making about $2M a year.

Righteous bucks for that coaching staff....which already is quite large and features many decades of NFL experience.  But Snyder is doing the right thing here....letting the football people do their thing [that's Gibbs] and backing him up financially when he wants something to help the Redskins succeed. 

This isn't the first time Snyder has done this.  In Spurrier's first year as head coach, Snyder paid defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis head-coach wages to be in Washington. 

Welcome aboard Al!!!  Dude has an excellent history with this sort of Don Coryell offense...and with offensive lines and with running backs.

Needless to say, Clinton Portis WILL be my keeper pick in Fantasy

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Will Charlotte House an MLB Team???


                          Jose Canseco as a Charlotte Knight, Class AAA affliliate of the White Sox, in 2002


Representatives from baseball's Florida Marlins will visit Charlotte in the coming weeks as they consider relocating the team to a proposed uptown stadium, a real estate lawyer told Mecklenburg County commissioners Wednesday night.

The National League team's visit is planned for February or March, said Jerry Reese. He has been pitching a 38,000-seat stadium as a centerpiece for what he calls The Brooklyn Renaissance Project, an ambitious plan that would redevelop an entire quadrant of uptown Charlotte.

Besides the retractable-roof stadium, Reese estimated, the 15-block project would add as much retail space as in Northlake Mall, offices and about 6,000 homes (mostly condos) to Second Ward.

Reese's plan has skeptics. Some sports marketers and civic leaders believe the Charlotte metro area -- which would be the major leagues' smallest-- won't have the population to support a major league team for a decade.

But Republicans and Democrats on the board of commissioners unanimously agreed to look into a proposal they called "intriguing," "amazing" and "exciting." They asked the county staff to study it, along with a competing, high-profile plan involving uptown baseball.

"I hope we can make this work," said commissioners Chairman Parks Helms. "I hope that you can translate this vision into reality. I will do what I can to make this happen."

While some have known of the plan, which Reese said has been in the works for three years, the news about the Marlins and a competing proposal last month to bring the minor-league Charlotte Knights uptown gave Reese's vision added urgency.

After years of developing the plans, Reese has just started to do the financial analysis needed to line up investors for the $600 million to $700 million project.

Marlins officials could not be reached late Wednesday. While the team has won two World Series titles since 1997, the organization has struggled financially, fueling talk of a move.

Major League Baseball officials gave the Marlins permission to look for another home in November, after talks to build a new stadium in South Florida stalled. The team's lease on its stadium near Miami runs out after the 2007 season.

Reese, a Catawba County native, is no stranger to big plans. In 2002, he said he wanted to be the one to bring an expansion NBA team to Charlotte, after the Hornets left. He asked NBA Commissioner David Stern to allow a new type of team ownership, one that would allow a group of local owners to sell shares publicly to help finance it.

At the time, he said, "I don't want to mislead the public that I've got everything in place. But this concept has received many positive responses." The plan never went through.

Reese said a Marlins stadium would be built with private money. He would obtain the land through a complicated swap involving the city, county and school system. Tax dollars would be needed for costs such as parking and street improvements, which Reese said would be paid for with a system called tax increment financing.

That means the taxes raised from the project would be enough to cover the investment of tax dollars, Reese said.

Charlotte Center City Partners pitched a complicated land swap last month to move the Knights from their Fort Mill, S.C., home to Third Ward. That location isn't big enough for a major-league stadium.

Michael Smith, president of Charlotte Center City Partners, said the minor-league stadium is a better fit for the area's current population, even with its major-league aspirations.

"This is the kind of creativity we need people to offer in Charlotte," Smith said Wednesday night of Reese's plan. "But I don't think Charlotte at this time is ready for Major League Baseball. We are absorbing our second professional sports team, and we're probably 15 to 20 years away from being ready."

Elected leaders for the city, county and the school system will now have to weigh the two plans, because both involve land owned by those agencies.

The stadium proposed by Reese would be built near the proposed site for a NASCAR Hall of Fame, at Second and Brevard streets.

He said he envisions 5 million visitors annually. Reese said the stadium would be big enough to draw conventions and sports tournaments. The Charlotte Bobcats Arena is considered too small for some events.

He urged the city and county not to relegate themselves to "minor-league status."

Marlins officials have been touring the country looking for a relocation site, with stops already in Portland, Ore., and San Antonio. The Miami Herald has reported that the team has plans to also visit Charlotte, Monterrey, Mexico, and northern New Jersey.

Reese said he has been talking to a vice chairman with the Marlins for about 30 days. He said he's also talking to other pro baseball teams, which he declined to name.

Most of the skepticism of Major League Baseball's chances in Charlotte rest on its population. Charlotte's metro area, including Rock Hill and Concord, has a population of 1.4 million. That's smaller than the 1.5 million people in the Milwaukee area, the smallest major-league market.

Because of Major League Baseball's economics, teams require big populations to drive ticket revenue, sports marketers say. Teams must pack fans into the stadium over at least 81 home games per season -- about double the number of NBA home games -- and most of those would fall on weekdays. That means a Charlotte team would need to draw locally, not from across the region.

Who Is This Guy???

A facinating development is going on in the NFL.  With job openings all over the place....teams aren't going after those big names to fill them.  It's those guys who work for the big named coaches that are getting the jobs.

There are SEVEN jobs filled....and only ONE of those jobs was by a guy with prior head coaching experience.  That was Herm Edwards, who left the Jets head coaching job to take over the Chiefs. 

Which is amazing, since in recent years we've seen Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, Tom Coughlin, Denny Green, etc get big time jobs.  Of course, looking at the see guys like John Fox, Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Jim Mora and Lovie Smith guiding their teams to their franchise biggest heights in years. 

The NFL is a trend league...and that seems to be the trend.  Most of these guys are young, energetic, cheap....and white.   All look like members of a Fantasy League, not the NFL.  They look like guys from a sales department of some company that get together for some Fantasy Football action, maybe head over the Applebee's for happy hour and discuss their lawns. 

So, here are the newest members of the NFL's head coaching fraternity.

SCOTT LINEHAN, RAMS.  Linehan [42] has been the Dolphins offensive coordinator last year...his first after being the Vikings offensive coordinator for three years.  He is more of a running-the-ball type of offensive good news for Steven Jackson fantasy keepers. 

ERIC MANGINI, JETS.  Mangini [35] becomes the youngest head coach in the NFL.  He's a disciple of Bill Billichick...being his defensive coordinator last year.  From Coztanza's Jets Commentary"He is not as polished or as good as either Romeo Crennel or Charlie Weis were. However, he has spent his entire career learning from Bill Belichick and was regarded highly enough to receive offers from three teams to become a defensive coordinator after last season. He is a rising star of the coaching ranks who will only become more knowledgable as he gains experience, and he would bring the Patriots' mentality to the team."

MIKE MCCARTHY, PACKERS.  McCarthy [42] has been the Niners offensive coordinator....been around the NFL block in his short career....but used to be Brett Favre's coach in Green Bay in 1999.  He has maintained a friendship of sorts with Favre and may be convincing enough to keep Favre around one more year.  If not, his biggest job will be to quickly develop Aaron Rodgers. 

BRAD CHILDRESS, VIKINGS.  Sure, he looks like a Social Studies teacher of the guy who helps you at the Home Depot.  But Childress [49] has been the Eagles offensive coordinator since 2002...and a QB coach for three seasons before that....developing Donovan McNabb.  He's been one of the more sought after coaches for the last couple of years. 

SEAN PEYTON, SAINTS.  This may have been the hardest the Saints have had so much to deal with in the past year and still have some major hurdles to jump.  He's been a QB coach in Dallas and New York...and that may show the draft cards of the Saints, who will be looking at Matt Leinart or Vince Young with the early draft pick. 

GARY KUBIAK, TEXANS.  Okay, this isn't official...but it pretty much looks like a go.  The Texans must wait for the Broncos season to end, which may be after the Super Bowl.  Kubiak has been involved with the Broncos for many years, as a coach and a player and has been a buzzworthy candidate for a head coaching job for a couple years now. 

ROD MARINELLI, LIONS.  Okay, he isn't a pup....but he does come from a nice pedigree.  He's been the Buccaneers defensive line of the best D-lines consistantly in the league.  Maybe Matt Millen will actually draft someone on that side of the ball this year. 

Former Packers coach Mike Sherman and former Lions and Bears coach Dick Jauron are believed to be in the running for the Bills that may actually buck the trend.

Of course, you may have noticed that these are all white guys....which won't look too good on the ol' diversity charts.  But, only Mangini is replacing a man of color.....Herm Edwards.

Antonio Davis Goes Into The Stands To Confront Fan

                  Antonio Davis

"I witnessed my wife being threatened by a man that I learned later to be intoxicated.  I saw him touch her, and I know I should not have acted the way I did, but I would have felt terrible if I didn't react. I felt I had to act. There was no time to call security. It happened too quickly."         -Antonio Davis

For those who don't know, during the overtime game between the Knicks and Bulls in Chicago....Antonio Davis, during a timeout, jumped over the scorers table and into the stands to confront a fan that was sitting next to his wife.  There were no punches thrown; no shoves; and it seemed as if nothing but words were exchanged.  Finally, security arrived and Davis was ejected from the game.

Can you imagine what David Stern was thinking as this was going across his TV?

This is the Post-Brawl NBA.  It has been 14 months since "The Malace In The Palace"...but in the 10 weeks of this NBA season, we've already seen two instances of players and fans interacting in a "aggressive" way.  The first happened in Seattle....when a fight between Ray Allen and Keyon Dooling spilled over into the stands [well, those seats at courside] at Key Arena.  Dooling was suspended for 5 games;  Allen suspended for 3. 

This Davis incident didn't have any physical altercation like that....or anything that happened in Detroit in 2004.  But the site of a player jumping over a scorers table....going up about 10 rows....then right into the seats was eerily similar to Ron Artest's path into the Palace stands.  Of course, this one had a much calmer conclusion.

It is wild that this would happen to Davis' wife.  Davis spent the last two seasons in Chicago and was part of that Bulls team that surprised many with a #4 seed last year. 

Of course, in the middle of all this is Larry Brown.  In the Malice incident...he was the Pistons coach.  Now, he's the Knicks coach and the shoe is on the other foot.  Brown had this to say:  "Come on, that's his wife.  That's entirely different. I was worried about Kendra. That's why he went in the stands, he saw her falling back.  That thing that happened in the stands had nothing to do with the two teams. That's a man concerned about his family."

Which is true.  I love my wife and I'd hate to be in a position to see somebody harming her.  Most men feel the same way.  But, the smartest thing to do would be to get security [they are usually some right at courtside] and get them up into the stands to take care of "their job"....with Davis keeping a watchful eye as close as he can from the court.  Of course, there still burns in my heart the fact that I really understand him going into the stands and protecting his wife.  Believe me.   

Expect some sort of discipline for Davis...most likely a suspension.  But how lengthy will depend on how the incident is viewed by Stern. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

What's Next For Washington?


On Saturday night....on a gloomy setting in Seattle...the Redskins season ended.  The Redskins gave a valiant effort, but lost to the NFC's best team 20-10. 

To be honest, this season has been a great one.  Sure, not as great as the 1982, 1987 or 1991 seasons [or even several others]...but the fact that this team made a postseason appearance is quite amazing.  I mean, this was a team that was 6-10 last year and came in with essentially the same team, but dealing their best wideout [Laverneaus Coles] for one that underperformed last year [Santana Moss].  Still, the offense looked crisper...the defense even more defiant....and the team benefitted.

But what does this mean??  Are we back into the mix of teams that have a shot each year??  Or is this just a one-year fluke and we'll go back to where we've been over the last decade [see: the 5-years after the 1999 NFC East championship]. 

THE GOOD:  GREGG WILLIAMS.  Williams was to be one of the hottest coaches on the market this offseason.  Daniel Snyder knew this...and paid him what some head coaches make  This is a really big deal...since Williams will be in his 3rd year with that Skins defense.  Before this season....the Skins had gone the last 6 years with 6 different defensive coordinators. 

THE BAD:  THE SECONDARY.  Don't get me wrong - they are a great secondary.  Problem is that they were injury plagued all season long.  If it wasn't Shawn Springs was Carlos Rogers out.   If not them, then it was Sean Taylor.  All this after their 2nd straight year of letting a star CB go [Champ Bailey in '04, Fred Smoot in '05].  And Taylor needs to do alot about his personal issues and attitude.  Remember, he had [and still has] bad legal issues to deal with that could possibly keep him off the field in 2006.  Also, the spitting incident and subsequent lying afterwards really put Washington in a bind.  You want to stick up for your guys....but it is hard to when they aren't being truthful. 

THE GOOD:  JOE GIBBS.  I was genuinelysurprised at his progress that he and his offensive coaching staff made this season.  Last year, the playcalling was stale and they had issues with replays and getting plays in on time.  This year, they did a fine job improving all those areas.  And while the offense wasn't a juggernaut, Gibbs changed up his playbook to allow Clinton Portis an opportunity to excel and got a lot out of Mark Brunell's experience.  I thought the game might have passed Gibbs by...but he just continued to amaze me with his ability to adjust.  Next year, he may have more improvements ready. 

THE BAD:  QUARTERBACK.  Mark Brunell came from the dead to take over this Skins team.  But is that a good thing?  Right now, yes, but will he be able to duplicate it next year?  Doubtful.  The best thing about Brunell is that he rarely did anything stupid...which was a far cry from Patrick Ramsey.  But Brunell is 35 and this past season might have been his last good shot.  Ramsey is as good as gone and Jason Campbell [aka The Future] didn't get any real action out there.  So the future is essentially now as far as that QB spot goes.  If Brunell tanks again...there will be no one to fill the void. 

THE GOOD:  WE HAVE STARS.  There are two legit stars in the Redskins sky....and they are Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley and Santana Moss.  Portis relished his role as a heavy duty back....showing durability and will even though he was having shoulder issues toward the end of the road.  Cooley filled that H-back position to perfection, giving the Skins a multiple option outlook on offense.  Moss gave the Skins a big play threat...something they hadn't had.  It is a nice lusury to be able to build your offense around these guys. 

THE BAD:  FALLING STAR.  How will this LaVar Arrington saga turn next?  It has been nothing but drama over the past few seasons with Arrington and Gregg Williams.  Arrington rarely played early in the season....but became a bigger part of the defense as the year went along.  But, dude is making a ton of money.....and he's quite expensive for a part time player.  With Williams locked in....will the Skins keep Arrington and try to make it work or release or deal him??  Could be the biggest offseason question.  With the Skins projected to be a good ways over next year's cap...Arrington could be gone. 

THE GOOD:  COACHING STAFF TO STAY INTACT.  In a season in which there are so many job openings.....the Redskins will be lucky to keep their entire coaching staff in Washington.  Locking up Williams was huge, since he helms the defense and since he won't be a head coach somewhere else, he can't pilfer the Skins defensive staff to come with him.  Gibbs and Daniel Snyder are working at getting all the coaches contracts extended. 

THE BAD:  THE OFFENSIVE LINE MAY NOT.  Well, not exactly.  Ray Brown retired after 500 years in the NFL.....but he was originally just a backup.  But Casey Rabach, Randy Thomas and Corey Raymer will undergo surgery this offseason and will try to be back to snuff when training camp begins. 

THE GOOD:  NO BIG TIME FREE AGENTS.  Last year, Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce left the Redskins after being important members on the 2004 team.  This year, there aren't any huge names that will be free agents.  Robert Royal [TE] and Ryan Clark [S] should be back.  It would be nice to have Rock Cartwright back....but not a certainty. 

THE BAD:  IT WILL BE TOUGH TO ADD NEW ONES.  Since the Skins are already dealing with cap issues, it will be hard for them to find anything of value in the market. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Shaq & Kobe....Reunited And It Feels Sooo Good


Before the game started.....Shaq went over to Kobe, who was stretching, grabbed his hand and congratulated Kobe on his wife being pregnant with their 2nd child.

A few moments later in the meeting with the team captains, Shaq and Kobe hugged and exchanged pleasantries.   Then, at the opening tip....another hug.

So ends The Feud.

The Feud was nothing more than....well....nothing, really.    Shaq and Kobe never were the best of friends when they were teammates, but they excelled together.  Because they did, they could stomach each other.  Lord knows we all have co-workers we could do without...but you gotta make nice to get the job done. 

It wasn't that big of an issue when seasons ended with ring ceremonies.  Not until a 2nd round defeat to the Spurs....followed by a season ending by the Pistons demolishing the Lakers in 5 games.  After that season, Kobe opted out of his contract and Shaq had leverage for a trade.  Oh, and Kobe had leverage to trade Shaq as well.  The team chose Kobe....and Shaq has been ticked by this ever since. 

Again....all that is fine.  Shaq has a reason to have some hurt feelings.  I mean, thru his entire life...HE has been the man.  A beast among men.  But, this time, when the chips were down.....someone actually choose the other guy. 

Sure, that Christmas 2004 meeting should have had all the trimmings of a heavyweight fight.  I mean, this is the first time they've played against each other in an NBA game.  There was the "were the Lakers correct in dealing Shaq" questions.   There was a buzz that these two could come to blows if Kobe tries to bring it to Shaq during the game [which he tried, but Shaq fouled him pretty hard].   Would they acknowledge each other??  We all know all those answers....and from then on, it should've been a dead issue.  But it hasn't.  In a game in Miami later in the season....Shaq and Kobe barely made eye contact.  And in the Christmas game this season, Shaq went as far as to basically imply that Kobe didn't exist. 

What a great defense.  In interviews, Shaq would never say Kobe's name....using "you know who" and "the other guy" to drop in some snide comments.  Kobe, in interviews, would just deflect it all and tell people that none of it matters.  To many, The Feud was mainly alive on Shaq's side.

I don't believe the Love Fest that occured before tip off meant nothing more than just squashing the beef so they didn't have to put on the icy stares.  Just like I don't believe The Feud as nothing more than just two guys who don't really see eye to eye.  The end of The Feud means nothing more than the fact that these two don't have to deal with this on the scale that it has been over the past 18 months.  These two can still hate each other.....well, not be friends.....but they can have the same relationship as, say, Yao Ming and Earl Boykins.   None of any consequence. 

The key phrase in all this is "move on".  We all can.   Shaq won't be a Laker again....we can't take the trade back [nor would most Laker fans want to].  For the Lakers, it is about trying to build this team around Kobe Bryant's talents and re-developing a winner.  So far, the team has done surprisingly well with Kobe, Odom, a bunch of role guys, a former #1 overall "bust", a NBDLer named Smush, and the youngerst player ever to be drafted.   Still, this team isn't that far off from being one of the middle 5 teams in the West....if they aren't already there now.

For Miami and is about taking advantage of the window of opportunity that they have now.  Shaq has only a few years left of productive years...and he's got a great youngster developing and some semi-aging stars along for the ride. 

Who knows....there is a smidge of a shot that these two guys could see each other in June.

The "Glory" of "Glory Road"

I think very highly of Scoop Jackson on many levels.  For one, he has the zest of the sports he covers [mainly hoops] yet tells it in the most informative ways.  Not a fan storyteller.  He's been on several times and I have had the pleasure of going on the air right after him....actually going against his take [he said that Phil Jackson would be a Knick, I said he'd be a Laker]. 

Here is a great, great, great article he wrote on [ Page 2 : Walking through the fire] about the story of Texas Western's road to the 1966 NCAA tournament.  On Martin Luther King Day...I didn't feel right to hog this great work for just me [or the zillions of readers of ESPN] I want to share it.  Please, enjoy.

Walking through the fire

"I know of a team..."
-- Nevil Shed

Those are the words that escaped Nevil Shed's mouth when someone asked him about the significance of his 1966 Texas Western team that changed the landscape of American sports. "I know of a team," he said. "That's what I want people to say when they talk about one of the greatest teams to ever play in college basketball."


"We know how to play this game better than anybody living."
-- Jon Voight as Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp

In a recent story this fall in Sports Illustrated, Alexander Wolff told the tales of six black football players down South. The story starts at the University of Kentucky. It starts with the death of Greg Page, the university's first black football recruit.

"So it was that the color barrier remained intact for SEC football until 1966," Wolff writes prior to mentioning Page's 1967 death from a neck injury suffered in practice. "Logically enough, the task of breaking it fell to Kentucky, a border state that had desegregated its public schools in 1948."

That's 18 years before Page set foot on UK's campus. And of the season after Page's death, Wolff wrote that no black football players enrolled at Kentucky.

This is the difference a game makes. This game.

Prior to Texas Western's defeat of that same border-state school in the 1966 NCAA basketball championship, black athletes were barely being recruited by Kentucky. But after that, after those five "colored boys" from Texas Western proved that a group of young black men had the cohesiveness, camaraderie and composure to defeat a "disciplined team," what couldn't or wouldn't be done in 18 years finally begins to change.

And it's funny how one school can be the centerpiece of both the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, of college sports as it existed in 1966. Because as much as many of us would like to believe that "the greatest upset in NCAA history" -- as the announcer proclaims in "Glory Road" (the movie is being released by Disney, the parent company of ESPN) -- was about the revolution of five black athletes taking the court together on one of college athletics' biggest stages, we must know that the significance in this game is more about who those five brothas beat than the 72-65 score they put up.

Kentucky represented the South in much the same way that Billie Jean King represented women when she beat Bobby Riggs. If Texas Western had played Ohio State, Cincinnati or UCLA -- schools that had locks on NCAA chips during this period -- the impact of the victory would not have been as massive; this film would not have been made. But because it was Kentucky, because it was Adolph Rupp, because it was the South, because of the racism, because every school in the SEC had refused to recruit black ballplayers even though Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor were stars while in college, because it was simply a part of history America was trying to forget, the game took on a life significantly larger than any NCAA title game until Bird met Magic in 1979.

Again, white vs. black.

Even then, even after the Kentucky football program had signed Greg Page (and Nat Northington, who became the first black player to appear in an SEC conference game, in 1967), it took until 1970 for the Kentucky basketball team to sign its first black player.

Denial, humiliation, arrogance, racism? Who knows. But one thing is definite: If Kentucky wins that game, Pat Riley never tells Jerry Bruckheimer the story because he never becomes "Pat Riley, Hall of Fame coach" ... because he doesn't win four NBA titles ... because Magic Johnson never plays basketball ... because Magic once told Riley that if it wasn't for Texas Western's beating Kentucky in that game he never would have started playing basketball ... which means Don Haskins' story never gets told and Rupp's does, which means we never see "Glory Road" because there's no reason for it to get made. Instead Ebert and Roeper would be thumbs-upping "Birth Of A Nation II: Rupp Strikes Back."


"Texas? You want me to get lynched?"
-- Mehcad Brooks as Harry Flournoy

There is no Jackie Robinson in basketball. There is no one singular figure who can be singled out and turned into a martyr. Yes, there's Sweetwater, Chuck Cooper, "Bucky" Lew, Cleo Hill, Pop Gates, "Coach" McClendon and Earl Lloyd, but none had the direct impact on American society and the civil rights movement (or was given the credit) that someone of Robinson's stature had.

Instead, it took a team, a collection of brothas from New York, Indiana, Detroit and elsewhere, to do for basketball what Malcolm X did for apathy. More than anything, the 1966 championship win was the team version of what Jesse Owens achieved in the Olympics in 1936. It didn't break down walls or barriers as much as it defeated a regime.

Just as Owens wasn't the first black person to ever win an individual gold medal in the Olympics (DeHart Hubbard, long jump, 1924), the Texas Western Miners of 1966 were not the first black players to win an NCAA ring. Even to this day -- especially with the release of "Glory Road" -- you'll hear the grumblings of the fact that the 1963 team from Loyola University of Chicago was the first "true" black team to win an NCAA basketball trophy. Not only did its squad stop Cincinnati from three-peating (with an overtime victory), it did so with four black ballplayers on the court throughout the game. But the difference in "predominately" and "totally" were paramount back then, just as "regular" and "racist" were when evaluating and judging universities.

Other teams and players don't get the props that the Texas Western team and its players do because in America's mind, the Miners went through the fire to get theirs while everyone else simply went through the wire.

Which is why, 40 years later, not only are we watching a movie about the moment, but we're able to eat Wheaties with the team's photo on the box. We're able to hear stories from Shed, Harry Flournoy, David Lattin, Willie Cager, Willie Worsley and Orsten Artis. We're able to understand the fire. Their walk through.

Their story is of a three-year period where me-against-the-world took on a unified meaning. A significance that to this day rings like freedom.

Because of them we're able to say, "I know of a team..."


"Activity without accomplishment."
"You are athletes -- but so are monkeys."
-- Josh Lucas as Don Haskins

Both lines in the movie represent what Don Haskins is all about, which is a beautiful thing. In a 1999 interview with Bruce Lowitt of the St. Petersburg Times, Haskins downplayed the importance of the game while at the same time suggesting how affected he is by its historical relevance.

He says: "The teams that we were playing -- like Arizona, Arizona State, New Mexico, New Mexico State -- we were playing against black players all the time. It really wasn't that big a deal. ... I never thought a thing about it." Later, in an interview with Frank Fitzpatrick, author of the brilliant "And The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Kentucky, Texas Western and the Game That Changed American Sports," Haskins says, "I'll be honest with you, I'm sick of talking about the damn thing. Sometimes I wish we finished second."

The spectrum of which leads to the greater understanding of how deep it really must have been. If fatigue hadset in with Haskins' talking about it, how does he think it felt for the players who actually went through it?

Finish second?

Imagine how insignificant his players would be today if they had.

And although this game is not about Haskins, the movie is.

His subtle messages throughout give the audience a glimpse of how his wisdom not only helped this team win a basketball championship but also helped seven black men get prepped for life beyond basketball. Not coming in second that one time did as much for their lives as it did for every one of John Wooden's title-winning players (and Wooden won 10 championships).

For black athletes in those days -- in an era that was oppressive nationwide, not just below the Mason-Dixon Line (note: although the Harlem Globetrotters began barnstorming as a basketball team in 1927, they didn't play a game in Harlem until two years after the Miners won that championship) -- losing was never an option, for them or for the white men who dared to coach in un-Jim Crow numbers.


"Welcome to the back of the bus, white boy."
-- Sam Jones III as Willie Worsley

Ron Thomas, in "They Cleared The Lane," writes of the 1966 NCAA finals: "Black attendance at sporting events reflected the common racial customs of the times. Some events allowed blacks, but only if they watched from their own section of the arena. Although whites revered Coach Rupp, blacks detested him." It was known, said S.T. Roach, a former high school coach from Lexington, Ky., that Rupp didn't want black players. According to Thomas, when Texas Western with its five black starters whipped Kentucky, "blacks all around the Commonwealth rose up and cheered because Rupp had gotten beaten."

Bobby Joe Hill, the team's leader, said in Lowitt's story, "[The victory] was the thing that opened doors in the ACC, the SEC. ... Everybody started recruiting blacks after that."

Said Lattin, the center, in the same article: "It certainly made it possible for a lot of black kids to go to majority white colleges to get a better education. It was a significant point that turned racial issues around and made it possible for guys to get scholarships -- and not just basketball. Football and baseball, as well."

And if Texas Western loses that game? Maybe it means Bobby Joe Hill is alive today but without a story of himself played out on the big screen. Maybe it means Nat Northington never suits up for Kentucky's football team in that SEC game in 1967.

This game gives Al Davis' generic "just win, baby" a whole 'nother meaning, don't you think?

A loss would have meant that Earvin Johnson would have never become Magic. Michael Jordan claimed he never would have gone to UNC if Texas Western had not won that game. Others? Try that without this win, John Thompson isn't allowed to put together those teams at Georgetown without resistance from the school or the conference. Then in no way does Jerry Tarkanian build those UNLV G-Unit squads of the early '90s. Then five freshmen never come together at the University of Michigan a few years later with plans to take over the world.

More direct, if Texas Western loses that game, Nate Archibald never leaves NYC to follow Bobby Joe's footprints, Maurice Cheeks never leaves Chicago years later to put his feet where Archibald's were (at West Texas A&M), which means Timmy Hardaway never follows Cheeks. More substantial, Nolan Richardson never gets out of El Paso to coach Arkansas to become only one of three black coaches to ever win an NCAA championship.

And Tubby Smith never gets interviewed in 1997 for the coaching vacancy at the University of Kentucky.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Full circle squared. Six degrees unseparated. Back to where the chariots swing low but the ropes swung high. The birth of Jim Crow. Back down South.

This game was more than just the breaking of a barrier, the Emancipation Proclamation of basketball; this was about the advancement of process and procedure. The speeding up of human rights. At the pace desegregation was going at the time in education and in sports, if Texas Western had lost that game, it may not have been until 1984 -- 18 years, remember? -- that America would see five black guys on a basketball court at the same time on the same team playing for an NCAA championship.

White supremacy has a way of notrelinquishing anything until it itself is either defeated or proven unsuccessful. You have to understand this in order to realize that the game they played on March 19, 1966, wasn't what was important. What was important was those five "nigras" won.

Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.