Sunday, January 27, 2008

Quick Hits...

Been a few days since my last post, so here are a few Quick Hits covering the week in sports...

The Stunner Down Under:

No, the stunner I'm talking about is not Novak Djokovic's upset of world number one Roger Federer, but rather the leggy Russian blonde named Maria who captured her third Grand Slam title at the Australian Open without losing a set.

Most people don't know this about me, but I am a big tennis fan. Growing up with a tennis-playing father and older brother it was kind of hard not to be. So I have to say it was refreshing to see the now 20-year-old Maria Sharapova beat the best players in the world on her way to the championship.

After winning her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon at age 17 I was sure that Sharapova would take her place among the game's elite shortly thereafter. But personal troubles and an inability to harness her game caused her to come up short more often than not over the last few years.

This Sharapova however was clearly a different person and a different player as she showed the ability to dominate as she did against world number one Justine Henin, as well as win without her "A" game as she did against Serbian star Jelena Jankovic.

The men's game has long been dogged by the lack of true superstar player/personalities, save of course for Federer and his French Open-foil Rafael Nadal. And as Serena and Venus Williams have battled injury and inconsistency, the once star-studded women's game has started to become just as bland.

That looks like it's about to change however as a focused and renewed Sharapova seems ready to take her game to the next level. Fair or unfair, it's always a good thing for women's sports (and tennis in particular) to have at least one attractive superstar to draw in the casual viewership, and Sharapova's statuesque physique is quite easy on the eyes if I do say so myself.

Personally I'm very excited to see what she can accomplish from here on out as beyond her good looks Sharapova's game has evolved into one of both power and control. It would not shock me if she won at least one more Grand Slam this year and overtook Henin as the best player in the game.

Welcome Back:

This just in, Tiger Woods is pretty good.

As I write this the best player the game has ever seen is taking an eight shot lead onto the first tee of the Buick Invitational to start what should be a victory lap around Torrey Pines. The win will be Woods' fourth straight at the event, a feat he's also accomplished at Bay Hill, the site of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The win will be his 62nd on the PGA Tour and will put him in a tie with Palmer for the fourth most wins all-time.

The fact that he's on his way to another win really isn't the story however. No, the real story is in the idea that some how he's managed to become even more dominant than he was last year, and perhaps more dominant than he's ever been before (the year 2000 included).

I know I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, but anyone who has watched him over the first few days of the Buick and knows anything about golf can see just how far out ahead of the field he is.

It had been reported during golf's off-season that Tiger had become comfortable with his latest round of swing tweaks and had started to devote more of his time to his putting stroke which apparently was not up to par with his own super-human expectations.

The work has clearly paid off this week as it seems every time he touches his Scotty Cameron to his Nike One Platinum the ball has a real chance of going in the hole. Through three rounds he's only hit 47% of the fairways and still he has an eight shot lead.

Think about what he's going to do once he shakes the rust off his game (hahaha, rust) and starts hitting a more customary 60% or so. Over the last month Tiger has stated that he thinks winning the calendar year Grand Slam is possible, as well as topping Byron Nelson's streak of 12 straight PGA Tour wins.

In the past Tiger would have deflected talk of such feats, saying that it would be special if he could do that, but never coming right and saying it could be done. If I were Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, or any of the other best players in the world I would be scared out of my Foot Joys hearing stuff like that from a guy like Tiger.

They say when he's on everyone else is just playing for second place. We should get used to hearing that quite a bit in 2008.

Pitching? Who Needs Pitching?:

During his time as GM for the Minnesota Twins, Terry Ryan was considered one of the best in the game. Ryan built that reputation by building teams that won with a solid mix of pitching and defense, even at times at the expense of offense.

Which is why the first few months of new GM Bill Smith's tenure has been a bit odd to say the least. Regardless of what the homer-ish local media would have you believe, the Twins are quickly going down a path that is leading them further and further away from the success they had in the first half of this decade.

Don't get me wrong, signing former AL MVP Justin Morneau to a contract extension was a solid move and locking up strong-armed right fielder Michael Cuddyer was nice to see as well. But it's been the team's willingness to part with some of the best arms in the game that is troubling to me.

It started with the trade of Matt Garza to the Tampa Bay Rays for outfielder Delmon Young. On the surface it seems like a good trade and it certainly was an even one if you believe Garza is ready to take off as I do.

But with teams like the Tigers, Indians and White Sox all sporting big time offensive lineups it seems to me if you're the Twins you'd want to combat that with top of the line pitching and avoid a slug-fest.

Not having Garza around is one thing, but now the impending trade of Johan Santana and the seeming unwillingness of the organization to lock up closer Joe Nathan, a team once known for it's big time pitching is looking square in the face of a starting rotation of Francisco Liriano (big time injury concern), Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker and a Triple-A grad of your choice.

It's not going to matter how good people think the bullpen is going to be with that kind of staff in front of them. Perhaps Liriano can make a full recovery and regain his dominant form, but even then they have nothing but a staff full of #3 starters and worse behind him.

If Smith has any sense at all he'll beg and plead for the Yankees to re-enter the fray as it pertains to Santana in the hopes that he can pry Phil Hughes away from the Bronx Bombers. However recent reports have the Mets as the leading candidate to land the best left-handed starter in the game and their best offer centers around outfield prospects.

Unless Twins ownership decides suddenly in the next year or two to up the payroll and attempt to land a few more top notch offensive talents I fear they will get caught in between so to speak, with neither the offensive firepower nor the pitching prowess to match up with the best teams in the American League or their own division for that matter.

Give Me a Break:

Tom Brady spotted with a boot. Tom Brady spotted with flowers. Tom Brady not at practice. Tom Brady uses a port-o-potty. OK, I made that last one up.

But this is what I hate about the two week layoff between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. All the non-stop non-news generated by the media is so overwhelmingly annoying that I can't believe I'm dedicating space on my blog to even mention it.

You want more compelling Super Sunday action? Think the game has become more about the ads and the halftime show and less about the final score? I know I do and the remedy is clear to me.

Play the game the Sunday following the AFC and NFC Championship games and you accomplish two things. First you avoid the off-field crap news that always dominates the off week, and second you allow the natural momentum of each team to carry over into what should be the biggest game of the year.

Sure there have been some close games following the two week layoff recently, but for my money the last two great Super Bowls were in 1999 and 2001 (Rams vs. Titans and Rams vs. Patriots respectively), and each came the Sunday after the conference championship games.

The year in between those two classic games? The 34-7 drubbing by the Ravens over the Giants that will be remembered more for the Ray Lewis stabbing incident during the week off than the game itself.

As much as I love the college game, even I will admit that the level of play suffers because of the long layoff between the end of the regular season and the bowl games, and the same is true in the NFL. Yeah, the week off helps some players get healthy, but overall the impact can be seen more in the sharpness (or lack thereof) of play from the two teams involved.

I know how much advertising people and network executives love to get the hype machine going, but for those of us who would rather see quality football it's clear that the week off is not a good thing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Five to Watch in 2008

I love a good sports list and I know you do too. That's why here at "Quick Hits" I've decided to give you one of my own, the 2008 "Five to Watch" list.

This list includes guys you've heard of and guys perhaps you haven't, but what they all have in common is that they should impact the sporting world in 2008 and if they happen to play for your team you might want to take notice.

So without further ado...

Francisco Liriano - SP - Minnesota Twins

In case you forgot the lefty on the Twins staff with the nastiest stuff is not named Johan Santana, and with Santana most likely on his way out no player means quite as much to the success or failure of the Twins in 2008 than Liriano.

Liriano, you'll remember, burst onto the scene and into the national baseball consciousness in 2006 when he fanned 144 batters in 121 innings while posting a 2.16 ERA and earned a trip to the All-Star Game.

Just to point out how dominant Liriano was in 2006, if you added up his hits allowed, earned runs allowed and walks you'd get 150. Just six more than his strikeout total on the year.

The fact that he only became a starter in mid-May that year and only made one start in August and September respectively due to injury speaks to just how untouchable he was.

Liriano won 12 of his 16 starts and never gave up more than four earned runs in any start and struck out 10+ in a quarter of them. Combined with Santana the Twins boasted arguably the best one-two punch in baseball and the team's longest losing streak (5 games) came from May 14-18; Liriano made his first start on May 19th.

It's become clear that the Twins are going to move Santana at some point and after trading away Matt Garza they absolutely must have Liriano back at full strength if they hope to compete with guys like Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker filling out the rotation.

All signs point to Liriano being fully recovered from Tommy John surgery come the start of spring training and that's great news for Twins fans who last year suffered through the team's first losing season since 2000.

Terrelle Pryor - QB - Jeannette, PA (College Undecided)

If you aren't glued to like I am then you may not have heard of college football's next big thing, QB Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette, PA., who happens to be the #1 high school football recruit in all the land.

When new Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez decided to leave West Virginia for Ann Arbor the first person he called was Pryor.

Reports are Pryor has had to get a second cell phone to avoid the non-stop, day and night bombardment of calls and text messages from fans, coaches and media who all want to know what school will be the happy recipient of his signature on the dotted line of a scholarship.

Pryor says he'll decide on national signing day which is just over two weeks away, but signs point to one of two places, Ohio State and Michigan.

Wherever the 6'6" 235-pound Pryor decides to go he'll bring with him considerable dual-threat skills that helped him rack up 4,250 yards rushing and 4,249 yards passing over his high school career.

In addition to being ranked as the nation's top football recruit, Pryor is also ranked third in the country among small forwards in basketball. So it should come as no surprise that the schools on his short list include the aforementioned Buckeyes and the defending national champion Florida Gators who just happened to play one another in last year's national title game.

My guess is that Rodriguez and the Wolverines will ultimately win the battle over Pryor who could easily step in and be starting quarterback from day one in Rodriguez's read-option offense.

Anthony Kim - PGA Tour Professional - Age: 22

Lets face it, no one is going to overtake Tiger Woods in the world of professional golf any time soon. And as Tiger's closest pursuers like Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Ernie Els get older and seem resigned to this fact it's all that much more refreshing when a young, American golfer steps up to take on the world's best.

No, Anthony Kim isn't going to reach #1 in the very near future, but don't tell him that. Last year the then 21-year-old Kim racked up four top-10 finishes after earning his tour card at qualifying school and by the end of 2007 was ranked 75th in the world with over $1.5 million in earnings.

Kim's final round scoring average in 2007 was a staggering 69.80, good for 7th on the PGA Tour and a testament to his ability to play well down the stretch. The next step of course is for Kim to give himself more opportunities close to the lead on Sunday.

Like many young players Kim can be erratic off the tee (134th in driving accuracy in 2007), but he can bomb it (12th in driving distance) and that can be a major weapon for him. More than stats however Kim has the attitude and short memory necessary for any player looking to score and ultimately win.

In addition to his golfing prowess, I have to admit it's nice to see a young American player who isn't lily white (Kim is of Korean descent). To me, Kim is the embodiment of what we were promised way back in 1996 when Tiger turned pro, and that is a more diverse PGA Tour in terms of non-white, American-born players.

In his first event of 2008 Kim finished T-3 which equals his second best finish on the PGA Tour. Watch for this talented youngster to pick off his first win at some point this season.

Evan Longoria - 3B - Tampa Bay Rays

When the Rays traded away one of their brightest young stars in right fielder Delmon Young, it seemed like a curious move. Getting rid of a 21-year-old who finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting isn't something you just do.

Luckily for the Rays (they dropped the "Devil") they have as much if not more young talent in their organization as any in baseball, and third baseman Evan Longoria is arguably the best of the bunch.

Drafted in 2006 out of Long Beach State, Longoria has risen quickly through the Rays farm system, making it all the way up to Triple-A Durham last season while hitting a combined .299 with 26 HRs and 95 RBIs between Durham and Double-A Montgomery in 2007.

No relation to smoking hot Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria, Evan projects as the most coveted of hitters, those who not only hit for power but for average as well. He plays a solid third base and is noted for his competitiveness and leadership ability.

Ranked as the Rays top prospect for 2008 by Baseball America, Longoria could shed the "prospect" mantle with a strong spring training and is on the fast track to claiming the Rays starting third base job for years to come.

Chase Budinger - Shooting Guard - Arizona Wildcats

Everyone knows the big name guys like Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo who seem primed to set the NBA on fire as soon as next year. One name that gets overlooked however is Arizona's sophomore standout Chase Budinger.

At 6'7" Budinger plays above the rim and also has legit NBA range, a combo scouts covet. As a freshman last season Budinger started all 30 games for the Wildcats and averaged 15.6 points per game in the ultra-competitive Pac-10.

So far this season he's averaging 17.1 points per game, and on a team loaded with players who have NBA potential, Budinger has established himself as arguably the Wildcats best player.

At 12-6 and looking strong, the Wildcats have already endured the loss of their head coach Lute Olsen who is on a leave of absence for the entire year and it's been the 19-year-old Budinger who by all accounts has stepped into a leadership role.

That mentality along with his ability to score have made him a top target for many teams in the 2008 NBA Draft should he choose to leave school early after this season. A rare athlete, Budinger was also named the MVP of the 2006 U.S. Junior Olympic Volleyball Tournament; a sport he's since given up.

Whatever Budinger chooses to do he might be overshadowed by bigger names, but as they say, talent rises to the top and Budinger is primed to take his talent all the way up.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Let Me Get This Straight...

Baseball is a game I love dearly.

I start looking forward to next season around mid-November and begin work on my fantasy draft cheat sheets in January. So suffice it to say that all the steroid issues surrounding it have left me with negative feelings toward the game as a whole. A feeling I'm not used to and can't say I'm very fond of.

As pervasive as performance enhancing drugs have been in baseball for roughly the last 15 years I refuse to place the blame at the feet of any one player, but rather at the feet of those in charge of the game, namely the commissioner, the player's association and ownership.

So to hear today that Bud Selig was given an extension through 2012 thanks to a unanimous vote by the owners was surprising and upsetting to say the least.

Apparently I missed something along the way and amidst all the "outrage" and "disgust" over the state of the game and the tarnishing of records long held as the most sacred in all of sports. How exactly is it that a man who in no small way helped facilitate the "steroid era" not only doesn't get fired, but is given a new contract?

Forget the fact that the curmudgeonly Selig isn't exactly the most likable persona in sports, the man presided over a period in the game's history that outside of the days of racial segregation has to rank as one of the worst.

Meanwhile the players involved in the controversy, many of whom by the way weren't doing anything that was against the rules of the game when they did it, are finding themselves persecuted and punished by the game as well as the government.

I understand that economically speaking the game has never been as fruitful as it is right now. Sparkling new stadiums are popping up all over and attendance, as Selig relishes in pointing out at every turn, is at an all-time high.

That does not however excuse the fact that the game's commissioner conveniently looked the other way while the popularity of baseball was saved in no small way by the glorification of the long ball.

Just the other day Selig sat in front of a congressional committee, wasting taxpayer money in the process, and told them that as much as anyone he was to blame for what was going on during the "steroid era" in baseball.

"All of us have to take responsibility, starting with me," said Selig.

Now I was brought up understanding that along with responsibility came consequences for actions that betrayed those responsibilities. Apparently the same rules do not apply at the commissioner's office.

Instead the owners have decided to give Selig an opportunity to repair a legacy that in my opinion deserves to go down with the likes of Pete Rose and the 1919 White Sox as the most tarnished in the history of baseball.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What About Mooch?

The end of every football season brings with it the inevitable head coaching moves as guys get hired and fired all over pro and college football.

This week both the Dolphins and Ravens have made headlines concerning their own search for their next head man. And all that posturing got me to thinking, why am I not hearing former 49ers and Lions head coach Steve Mariucci's name mentioned with guys like Tony Sparano and Jason Garrett?

For those of you who don't remember, Mariucci last coached in the NFL in 2005 when he was fired by the Detroit Lions after a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Since then Mariucci has been working the analyst desk for the NFL Network and doing a fine job. But it seems to me his talent and resume as a head coach would be difficult to ignore for any team with an opening.

As a fan I have fond memories of Mariucci's tenure with the 49ers and to this day maintain that former GM Terry Donahue's decision to fire him after a 10-6 season and an NFC West crown set the team back at least five years.

When Mariucci was first hired by the 49ers he inherited a team of stars led by Steve Young and Jerry Rice and had great initial success going 25-7 in his first two seasons on the job. The next two years were not as kind however as the Niners best players aged and succumbed to injury.

The Niners went into free fall in 1999 and 2000, compiling a 10-22 mark over those two seasons and it would have been easy then to let Mariucci go. But the Niners showed their faith in the man that helped mold Brett Favre in Green Bay and that faith paid off.

Coaching up a total unknown in quarterback Jeff Garcia, Mariucci reversed the Niners fortunes yet again going 12-4 in 2000. Despite the fact that they were beaten by Favre and the Packers in the Wild Card playoffs that year, it seemed the Mariucci-led Niners were back.

They followed that campaign up by winning the NFC West and pulling off one of the greatest (albeit controversial) comebacks in playoff history, beating the New York Giants 39-38.

By then Garcia was a Pro Bowl caliber player and the team had started to put together a decent roster of players including Terrell Owens, Julian Peterson and Andre Carter. Things were looking good, and then just like that it was all over.

On January 15th, 2003, Mariucci was fired by the Niners after a falling out with Donahue. Less than a month later he was hired by the Detroit Lions and the Niners haven't posted a winning record since.

Sure Mariucci's record with the Lions left quite a bit to be desired, but much of that blame has to fall on GM Matt Millen and some of his terrible decisions. Trust me, you'd have a tough time winning with Joey Harrington as your starting quarterback too.

I remember Mariucci as a guy the Niners players seemed to rally around and as one of the more entertaining sound bytes in the league. A guy whose ability to keep things light off the field and play to his team's strengths on it was just the right combination for a professional coach in this day and age.

So why is it that no one seems interested in hiring a guy with the kind of solid credentials that Mariucci brings to the table? There have been rumors that he's not interested in stepping back into the spotlight again, but I have a hard time believing that given what I saw of his competitive fire when he was in San Francisco.

If not in the NFL then, why not at the college level? He spent one year as the head coach at Cal and led them to a bowl game and has been linked in the past to several schools including Michigan State and UCLA.

Why in heaven's name would someone hire Bobby Petrino before at least giving Mariucci a look? Oh wait, that's right, it's Arkansas.

Seriously though, I think he'd be perfect for the college game with his offensive mind, NFL background and effervescent personality he'd make a great recruiter and would be a guy that college kids would really respond to, much like Pete Carroll at USC.

Regardless of the situation, I personally would love to see Mariucci back on the sidelines and think it would be a shame if he remains behind a television desk for much longer.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Playoff Thoughts

Saturday was the calm before the storm during this past week's divisional playoff games in which both the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers pulled off big time upsets on their way to the conference championship games.

Here now are a few Quick Hits on the weekend's action...

Eli Becomes a Man(ning)

The stats haven't been gaudy and the wins haven't been overly impressive, but what Peyton's little brother has been able to do so far in the 2007 playoffs has been nothing short of awesome.

I'll admit it, I'm not a huge Eli Manning fan. Forcing his way out of San Diego after he was drafted by the Chargers and his subsequent no-shows in just about every big game up until this point had me thinking that the youngest of the Manning boys was more a product of the name on the back of his jersey as opposed to his talent.

Four touchdowns and zero interceptions in two playoff games later and my stance on young Eli has begun to change. What's been most impressive has been his poise in hostile environments, something he and the Giants have been able to overcome all year.

Without Jeremy Shockey and with a less-than-great running game behind him, Manning has finally figured out that he doesn't have to be his brother and attempt to take over games with his arm. Instead he's turned the corner as a game manager and seems more willing to take what the defense is giving him.

You add that to the stellar defensive efforts the Giants have been putting up and you get a quarterback and a team that has knocked off two division champs and now have an opportunity to take out a third in the Green Bay Packers.

Tony Ro-no

It's become the popular thing for analysts to compare Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to Packers legend Brett Favre, and in some cases the comparisons are valid.

Both have that "gun-slinger" mentality and both seem to have the shortest memories in professional sports. If they were baseball players they'd be perfect closers, all attitude and stuff with no fear.

The difference however is experience and savvy; Favre has it, while Romo still has a ways to go. Jessica Simpson notwithstanding, Romo did not have one of his best days on Sunday and his sporadic play helped doom the Cowboys.

As Terrell Owens and his tears pointed out, it's not fair to single out Romo for the Cowboys' loss, but that's the nature of the position, too much praise and too much blame.

Don't worry Cowboys fans, Romo is still the man for you and if you stand by him I promise he will pay off. Very few guys are Joe Montana or Tom Brady and have playoff success right out of the gate, and don't forget Favre lost three straight playoff games against the Cowboys before finally making and winning a Super Bowl in 1996.

Dungy's Last Stand?

Lost in the stunning loss to the San Diego Chargers was the fact that this might have been the final game as head coach for one of the classiest men in professional sports, Tony Dungy.

He isn't a "genius" kind of guy like Bill Walsh was and he isn't a rah-rah kind of guy like Bill Cowher, what Dungy is however is the kind of distinguished, stand-up guy who earned the respect of his players and in turn earned the respect of the sporting community.

While so many coaches (ahem... Bobby Petrino... ahem) preach a team-first attitude and a play for each other mentality, few embody those traits like Dungy. To a man his players would run through a wall for him and in this day and age of high-priced athletes shunning authority figures, that is a rare thing.

If Sunday was the last time we see Dungy on the sidelines it'll be a sad thing. But few deserve to choose their own path and do what makes them happy more than he does.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Player Haters

Here's the scenario. You're a good looking, successful bachelor with some time off from your daily grind and you want to spend some quality time with your woman in Mexico. Sounds nice huh?

Now imagine that your woman just happens to be Jessica Simpson. Sounds too good to be true doesn't it?

Well if your name happens to be Tony Romo and you're the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys you can make that dream come true and make all of us regular dudes Cowboy-blue with envy.

That's exactly what Romo did during the Cowboys off week and instead of getting love from every male with a pulse, Romo is instead being questioned for shifting his focus away from football to hang out poolside with one of the hottest women on the planet.

I know fans and media types want their athletic heroes to be all sports all the time, but I have news for you people, they're regular people just like us. Who are we to say a guy can't take a few days to relax and enjoy the company of a mega-hottie like Simpson?

Kudos to the Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips for giving his guys a little time away from what has been a grueling regular season to clear their heads and come back refreshed for a playoff run.

Of course people are going to bash Phillips and Romo should the Giants upset the Cowboys this weekend, but even if they do I don't think letting his guys get away from football for a while will be the reason.

These guys are professionals, the best at what they do, who spend the bulk of their lives preparing to play the game of football both during the season and in the off-season. No, if they lose it'll be because the Giants played better on that day, not because Tony Romo happens to date someone hotter and more famous than you do.

When you and I take advantage of our vacation days no one questions our ability to do our jobs upon our return. Why do we seem to think it's OK to bash these guys for not eating, drinking and sleeping football 24/7?

There has to be something more newsworthy going on than what "Tonessica" are doing in their free time. Perhaps people want to have something to blame a potential loss on, but trust me when I tell you that it's not just coach/player-speak when they tell you it's all about who executes on Sunday.

So Cowboys fans and all the Terry Bradshaw's of the world can rest their little player-hating heads, Romo will be just fine(not as fine as Jessica, of course) and he and the Cowboys will be ready to play come Sunday.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

How Does it Feel?

I must admit, at first I was quite happy to see Roger Clemens named in the Mitchell Report. Not so much because I dislike Clemens, but his inclusion in that report meant that at least for a while the media would have another ultra-high profile whipping boy.

As the coverage of Clemens' alleged use has filled the headlines over the past week or so, I've found myself feeling a bit less joyous about the whole thing and quite a bit more understanding.

Understanding not of what Clemens must be going through as he trudges through public relations hell, but understanding of what his throngs of fans spread across the country must be feeling as they see their hero and favorite ballplayer called a cheater.

You see to this point the coverage and scrutiny of the other big names linked to steroids (i.e. McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro) has paled in comparison to that of the so-called "big fish", one Barry Lamar Bonds.

With the outing of Clemens by his former trainer, a star on the same level as Bonds has finally been dragged through the mud and had his dirty little secret aired for all to see. Refreshing to be sure, but not at all surprising.

What has been surprising, and pleasantly so, has been how hard the media has gone after Clemens. When the news first broke of Clemens' alleged steroid use I thought for sure the media would spin the story in Clemens' favor and give the 7-time Cy Young Award winner the benefit of the doubt.

And while the coverage hasn't had quite the witch hunt feel to it with Clemens as it has with Bonds, it's been very fair and at times very negative toward The Rocket.

Maybe at this point people will open their eyes to the bigger picture here, which is that steroid use in baseball has been more than widespread over the last 15 to 20 years and that the punching bag for the media and the court of public opinion should be major league baseball itself, not one or two individual players.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Classless, Clueless and Congratulations

A few Quick Hits on the bowl season so far...

Mark Richt runs it up:

Georgia head coach Mark Richt pulled two of what I considered to be the coolest moves of the 2007 college football season on his way to a 10-2 season and a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

At 5-2 with the Bulldogs season in the balance and facing the defending national champion Florida Gators, Richt sent his entire team out to the end zone after an early touchdown to send a message to the Gators that they were not going to be pushed around as they had in several previous meetings between the schools.

He knew they would get penalized and that people would talk trash about the tactics, but he realized that his team needed a boost.  The move propelled Georgia to a 42-30 win over Florida and helped inspire his team to five straight season ending wins.

The second pull from Richt's coaching grab bag of tricks came two weeks later against rival Auburn when Richt sent his team out in red jerseys, only to have them yank them off to reveal their rarely seen black jerseys.

Those moves had me thinking I really kind of liked Richt and how he was handling his players as he seemed to really understand motivation and knew how to keep things loose and have a good time, a la Pete Carroll at USC.

However after watching his team steamroll the Hawaii Warriors in the Sugar Bowl while Richt ordered passing plays and fourth down attempts in the fourth quarter with his team up 41-10, I lost quite a bit of respect for Georgia's head man.

Why do that?  What could there possibly be to prove?  People knew going in that it was going to take a big time effort for Hawaii to hang with an SEC school like Georgia and when the score got out of hand and Colt Brennan had been knocked out of the game there was no reason for Richt to keep the pedal to the floor.

The television announcers mentioned next year's pre-season polls as possible explanation for Richt running it up on Hawaii, but that's crap if you ask me.  

So too is the idea that Richt wanted to let his backup guys get some stats and find the end zone in a bowl game.  In fact there was no good reason to try and embarrass a team and a school who quite frankly was overmatched from the opening kickoff.

As entertaining as Richt's regular season antics may have been, in the end he proved to be nothing more than another classless college football coach who has little in mind besides his own ego.

Riley saves the day:

The California Golden Bears were one of the more disappointing teams in 2007, reaching number two in the country and then falling off the map and finishing 6-6.

Much of the blame for Cal's demise was placed on redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Riley who freaked out in the final seconds of a loss to Oregon State and cost Cal the chance to be the top ranked team in the country.

But it was none other than Riley who saved the Golden Bears in their bowl win over Air Force in relief of embattled starter Nate Longshore.

Just when it looked like Cal and Longshore were about to suffer another bad loss to an inferior team, head coach Jeff Tedford made the move he should have made weeks earlier and gave Riley his second chance.

All the kid did was go 16-of-19 for 269 yards and three passing touchdowns and ran for another score on his way to leading a 21-point comeback in the Bears' 42-36 win over the Falcons.

Why Tedford waited so long to finally make a move on Longshore is a mystery to me and most Cal fans who had such high hopes for their favorite team in 2007.  Thankfully it appears the starting job will not be handed to Longshore in 2008 as it was this past year.

Personally I can't wait to see what Riley can do with a whole season as the starting quarterback for the Bears as they look to put the disaster of the 2007 season behind them.

Henne and Hart go out winners:

I've never been a huge Chad Henne fan and I've never thought Mike Hart was overly impressive outside of his ability to hang onto the ball and get the tough yards.

Despite the fact that Hart doubled his career fumble total by putting the ball on the ground twice and Henne threw two interceptions in the Capital One Bowl against SEC powerhouse Florida, both of Michigan's senior leaders came up big when it mattered and led the Wolverines a 41-35 win.

Along with senior left tackle Jake Long, Henne and Hart came back to school to win a national championship with a team many considered one of the best in the country prior to the season.  But an opening season loss to Appalachian State sent the title hopes down the tubes and by seasons end Michigan would be unranked and searching for a new head coach.

But Henne and Hart rallied their teammates like the true leaders they are and to them I say congratulations on two stellar careers in the maize and blue.