Friday, April 25, 2008

Because Everyone Else Does It...

Count me among the thousands of football wonks out there who think they can predict the first round of the NFL Draft. It's an exercise in futility to be sure, but what the hell, I'll take a shot.

I'll spare you my analysis because that would make for a seriously long-winded piece. But keep in mind that the picks I've made do not reflect trades that I think will happen.

So without further ado, here goes nothing.

1. Miami Dolphins - Jake Long - OT - Michigan

2. St. Louis Rams -
Chris Long - DE - Virginia

3. Atlanta Falcons -
Matt Ryan - QB - Boston College

4. Oakland Raiders - Darren McFadden - RB - Arkansas

5. Kansas City Chiefs - Glenn Dorsey - DT - LSU

6. New York Jets - Vernon Gholston - DE - Ohio State

7. New England Patriots - Brandon Albert - OG - Virginia

8. Baltimore Ravens - Leodis McKelvin - CB - Troy

9. Cincinnati Bengals - Keith Rivers - LB - USC

10. New Orleans Saints - Sedrick Ellis - DE - USC

11. Buffalo Bills - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - CB - Tennessee State

12. Denver Broncos - Derrick Harvey - DE - Florida

13. Carolina Panthers - Reshard Mendenhall - RB - Illinois

14. Chicago Bears - Ryan Clady - OT - Boise State

15. Detroit Lions - Jeff Otah - OT - Pittsburgh

16. Arizona Cardinals - Aqib Talib - CB - Kansas

17. Kansas City Chiefs - Chris Williams - OT - Vanderbilt

18. Houston Texans - Kentwan Balmer - DT - North Carolina

19. Philadelphia Eagles - Devin Thomas - WR - Michigan State

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Jerod Mayo - LB - Tennessee

21. Washington Redskins - Kenny Phillips - S - Miami

22. Dallas Cowboys - Limas Sweed - WR - Texas

23. Pittsburgh Steelers - Phillip Merling - DE - Clemson

24. Tennessee Titans - Malcolm Kelly - WR - Oklahoma

25. Seattle Seahawks - Gosder Cherilus - OT - Boston College

26. Jacksonville Jaguars - Lawrence Jackson - DE - USC

27. San Diego Chargers - Jonathan Stewart - RB - Oregon

28. Dallas Cowboys - Felix Jones - RB - Arkansas

29. San Francisco 49ers - DeSean Jackson - WR - California

30. Green Bay Packers - Brandon Flowers - CB - Virginia Tech

31. New York Giants - Dan Connor - LB - Penn State

That's it, that's the list. I'll be back on Monday to make fun of myself for being so wrong about these picks. Hey at least I'll get number one right.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Frustrating Sunday, Painful Tuesday

Update 4/16/08: It was reported last night that Tiger Woods underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage damage in his left knee. That's the same knee he's had surgery on twice before.

This setback means Woods will miss the Wachovia Championship as well as the Players Championship before hopefully returning in June for the U.S. Open.

As it is with any athlete, the great equalizer is injury, and in Woods' case would appear to be the only thing that could stand between him and every meaningful record in the game of golf.

No one knows for sure how long Woods has been dealing with the injury, some say it's been since the middle of last year. But the fact that he has won already three times on tour in 2008 is just another of his amazing athletic feats.

There is probably not another athlete that is tougher than Woods mentally, and I have little doubt that he'll be able to recover physically and return to form quickly. However it is a concern that this knee problem continues to flare up.

Anyone who has ever had knee problems knows that it never really gets better and eventually it just becomes a matter of mitigating the pain on a daily basis. Given Woods' freakish workout and practice habits you have to wonder how continued knee issues might impact his unequalled preparation.

That said, the last time Woods had surgery on the knee he returned to win three of the first four events he entered.

The one thing that I think the knee problems rule out in the future is the Champions Tour for Woods once he turns 50. My guess is that he'll be too busy with outside ventures and family to be able to commit himself the way he would want to to that tour, and the knee will probably make it an even easier decision.

Luckily for us it'll be a long time before that happens.


Like he had so many times before, Tiger Woods stood over a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th green at The Masters. And like so many times before the putt dropped.

Only this time it was quite different.

As Woods put the finishing touch on what was by most accounts the most frustrating four days he's ever experienced around the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, Woods gave the birdie a sarcastic wave as if to say, "oh sure, now you go in".

It was just one of those weeks for the world's best player. A week in which his brief moments of brilliance, like the long birdie on the 11th Sunday afternoon that looked like it might signal a Tiger-charge, were eclipsed by untimely mistakes.

In the end Woods recorded his fifth runner-up finish in a major, which is certainly nothing to scoff at. However, when your expectations are as high as his, anything less than a fifth green jacket was going to be a disappointment.

Give all the credit in the world to South Africa's Trevor Immelman for putting together a very Woods-like performance, leading the tournament wire-to-wire and minimizing his mistakes on Sunday to make sure he locked up his first major championship.

Unlike Woods, Immelman followed his brief lapses in solid play with timely moments of brilliance. Interestingly enough it was the 11th hole for Immelman that proved to be his turning point shortly after most thought it would be Woods'.

After playing safe and missing his approach to the treacherous hole to the right, Immelman came up well short on the fringe with his pitch shot. Staring bogey or worse dead in the eye, Immelman canned the long par putt and ultimately stemmed the growing Woods-tide.

Even a terrible tee shot on the par-3 16th hole from Immelman that inexplicably found the water was not enough for Woods to take advantage of down the stretch.

A short miss for birdie on the par-5 13th seemed to signal the end for Woods, and an even worse bogey on the 14th ended any hope of a Sunday comeback as well as Woods' march towards the calendar year Grand Slam.

While it's little consolation for Woods, the end result of The Masters points out just how amazing his accomplishments to this point have been and just how slim the margin between winning and losing on the PGA Tour really is.

Woods' four-day performance at Augusta was one of the flattest, most uninspiring of his career at a major championship. Rivaled only by his lone missed cut at a major in his professional career, two years ago at the U.S. Open, shortly after the death of his father.

And yet as poorly as he performed in the big, tournament-changing moments this week he still managed to find a way to finish second alone and shoot one of the better rounds of the day on Sunday.

It'll be several weeks before we get to see Woods back out on the course, and that's probably a good thing for those of us who are admitted Tiger wonks, because if history has shown us anything about him it's that he'll figure out what went wrong and bust his Tiger-ass to fix the problem and move forward with a vengeance.

Woods' next major challenge comes in June at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, a course Woods has owned over the years. This week showed that nothing is for certain in golf, but if I were the field I would prepare my runner-up speeches ASAP.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Sad Turn Of Events

At every turn they were asked about it. And at every turn they shrugged it off as nothing more than a meaningless statistic that in the end would not cost them a National Championship.

But alas, in the end, it was Memphis' inability to knock down free throws that ultimately led to their demise in the biggest game of the season.

For all the world it didn't look like it would end up this way as the Tigers had managed to can nearly 70% of their free throws throughout the tournament. All the while laughing off criticisms from the media that it was their Achilles heel.

They dominated three of the best teams in college basketball along the way in Michigan State, Texas and UCLA and did it all with the style and swagger of a team that knew it was the best in all the land.

Sure that mentality probably rubbed some people the wrong way and caused those people to rejoice when it all came crashing down around the deflated Tigers in overtime, but make no mistake that this was a truly great Memphis team.

It's a shame really that their head coach, John Calipari, basically disappeared on them for the last ten minutes of the game. Choosing to allow his players to run clock and improvise as opposed to structuring the game's final moments in an effort to keep their heads in the game.

It's also a shame that the best player in the tournament, Memphis point guard Derrick Rose, probably played his last game at the collegiate level. I'm not saying he should stay in school, I just think it would be fun to see this Memphis team give it another run next year.

If this team reminded me of any other from college basketball's past, it would have to be the 1991 UNLV squad led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anderson and Anderson Hunt.

That team had throttled any and all challengers on its way to the Final Four, but were beaten by Duke in the national semifinal after a string of late game mistakes and misses at the free throw line cost them as well.

Like many, I would argue that UNLV had the better team that year, but on that night for whatever reason it just wasn't there for them. I would also argue that while Kansas is certainly deserving of the big prize and they have a great team, I would take Memphis' kids in the same situation 9 out of 10 times.

In the end of course, that's what it all comes down to, the fact that they are indeed just kids.

Kids that can be taken out of their games and kids that on any given night can and will exhibit all the signs of nervousness no matter how many big games they had won before.

You've heard of saving your best for last. In Memphis' case they sadly saved their worst for last and rather than remembering how good they were, all anyone will remember is how they gave away the National Championship.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Unholy Trio

If you're a true sports fan you have teams and schools that you truly can't stand.

If you're a member of the Red Sox Nation you hate the Yankees. You went to THE Ohio State University? You probably can't stand the sight of maize and blue.

For me there are three which hold a special spot on my sporting dart board and nothing brings me more pleasure than to see them fail at every turn.

They are the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Duke Blue Devils basketball team and the entire Stanford University athletic department. Those three teams/programs irk me in ways that non-sports fans can't understand.

Seeing them succeed no matter how heart-warming the story at the time, absolutely makes my skin crawl. And if that sounds a little over the top, it is. But I have perfectly good reasons for all three.

First and foremost are the Dodgers, who I have been groomed to hate over my 27 years on this earth like no other team in sports. I am a Giants fan through and through, and that's really all you need to know about that.

Second would be Stanford, which when compared to my father's alma mater Cal, stands as the bastion of spoiled-brat schools where as long as you can afford it, you can go there. Oh, and I want to burn that stupid tree to the ground, or beat the tar out of it like Cal's mascot Oskie did.

Last, but certainly not least, would be the Duke Blue Devils and their men's basketball program. When I first got into college basketball I was a fan of Michigan's Fab Five who, with their baggy shorts and black socks, stood in stark contrast to the lily white, buttoned-down Dukies.

There's just something so off-putting about those guys, and before you go calling me a racist, I've never like their black players either.

The strangest thing however is that while in general I've got running vendettas against all three, there still manages to be something about them that I admire, and even(gulp) like.

You know what I'm talking about. Vikings fans hate the Packers, but most of them have a healthy respect for Brett Favre. And as much as Red Sox fans want to see the Yankees go down in flames, most of them recognize the effort and classiness of Derek Jeter.

So here now, the "unholy trio" of things that I actually like about the Dodgers, Stanford and Duke. I feel dirty just saying that.

Vin Scully - Play-by-Play Announcer:

A huge part of truly enjoying a baseball game on television or on the radio is the ability of the play-by-play man working the booth.

In some places, like San Diego, people are forced to choke down the over-the-top and hardly-accurate musings of guys like Matt Vasgersian. However in Los Angeles fans are treated to the silky smooth tones of one of the greatest sportscasters of all time, Vin Scully.

Sure Scully is getting up there in age and he will sometimes butcher a player's name, but no one tells the story of a baseball game like Scully.

The man has forgotten more about baseball than most of us will ever know. He's steeped in anecdotes about players both past and present, and listening to him wax poetic about a funny moment or a dramatic play is truly a treat for those of us who love the game.

On top of that he's still a sharp baseball mind, who pays attention to what's going on in the game and does so much homework that often he'll be able to give you a full bio on players who don't even play for the Dodgers.

In an era of broadcasting that is fully in love with the three man booth and semi-illiterate former players as color commentators, Scully commands his one man show like no other.

As much as I hate the Dodgers and all that they stand for on the field of play, it is an honor to sit down to a Giants/Dodgers tilt with Scully behind the mic.

Mike Krzyzewski - Head Coach:

As fully annoying as I happen to find the Duke players, their head coach is another matter completely.

Krzyzewski is the model of what a collegiate coach should be. Dignified, classy, intense and a wonderful teacher of the game. Coach K is as interested in growing quality young men as he is in developing big time basketball players.

On the court, his pressure defense and precision offense are what make the collegiate game stand out from it's professional brethren, and no one does it better.

There are a few coaches in big time collegiate athletics who I would gladly send my child to play for, safe in the knowledge that they will truly get an education in both sports and life. Tennessee's Pat Summitt, Washington's Tyrone Willingham and Zrzyzewski would top that list.

Too many coaches are in it to win at any cost and in the process neglect to give all of their kids, from the stars to the walk-ons, the best of themselves as people. This is not the case with Coach K, which you can tell by the relationships he keeps with his former players.

Few things in sports bug me like watching Duke trampling ACC opponents, but I can certainly appreciate the efforts of Coach K both on and off the court.

Tiger Woods - #1 Golfer in the World:

This one proves that even the best have at least one fatal flaw, and for the greatest golfer of all time (that's right, I said it), it happens to be his choice of school.

If you've read my blog at all you know how much I love to watch Woods play and he is easily one of my top 5 athletes of all time. Still, it irks me that of all the places in the world (or the West Coast for that matter), Woods chose to go to Stanford.

I suppose I understand the decision given the school's prowess on the national collegiate golfing scene, but that doesn't excuse the lapse in judgment.

You don't need me to tell you about all the amazing things Woods has accomplished on the golf course, and for all the scrutiny he gets for not taking many political stances off of it, his Tiger Woods Foundation has done more to help kids around the country than most star athletes.

Even though watching him freak out during the Stanford/Arizona basketball game in 2004 was truly annoying, Woods is the man without question.