Monday, September 8, 2008

Monday Musings

I'm back and right on schedule this time with another installment of Monday Musings. Lots to get to, so on with the show...

  • So you want to be an professional football player huh? After the carnage that took place on Sunday I think baseball might see a resurgence in popularity across the country.

    Some of the NFL's best players, including Patriots' QB Tom Brady and Titans' QB Vince Young, suffered injuries in week one. Some, like Young, were able to escape with injuries that will only sideline them for a few weeks. Others, like Brady, are now done for the season.

    It's the unfortunate reality of a sport where the athletes are so big, so strong, so fast that major injuries are going to occur. This weekend should serve as a reminder to all those who think football players are just being greedy when they hold out for more guaranteed money, that in fact they are only doing what is truly in their best interests.

    Few other professions involve the type of sudden, career-ending dangers that football does. It's true that they are getting paid to play a game and in the grand scheme of things they shouldn't be making more than doctors and teachers. However the players should not be held responsible for the market that has been set for them by the owners and by this country's seemingly unquenchable thirst for the game itself.

    If it weren't for how popular the NFL and the other major sports in this country are there wouldn't be billion dollar stadiums and television contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In my opinion the players have as much right to a piece of that pie as anyone, and while it seems silly that athletes (or any entertainers for that matter) can make as much money as they do, for football players in particular the ultra-high risk level involved justifies their quest for that one big contract.

  • Serena Williams climbed back to the top of the tennis world on Sunday night with a straight set victory over Jelena Jankovic in the final of the U.S. Open. She did so without dropping a set and the win punctuated why she might be the best female tennis player ever.

    The victory was her ninth Grand Slam title and third U.S. Open and vaulted her into the No. 1 spot in the world rankings. But it was the physical dominance that she showed over her opponents (including sister Venus along the way) that has fans recalling Serena's cat-suit days when no one was even close to being in her class on the court.

    Focus and determination is the name of her game now, and coupled with her devastating power and shot making ability I simply cannot see another player out there right now who can beat her when she plays her best.

    At 23 and in great shape, Serena still has several more years to cement her place in history alongside the greatest the game has ever seen. She served notice last night that she is truly back and there is little that can stand in her way.

  • How about the East Carolina Purple Pirates? All they've done so far in two weeks of play is knock off, not one, but two top-25 opponents in Virginia Tech and West Virginia. The wins earned them a spot in the latest polls, all the way up at No. 14 in the AP poll. The first time they've been ranked in nine years.

    I was so impressed by the way they handled themselves against the Mountaineers Saturday, on both sides of the ball, bottling up Heisman candidate Pat White and controlling the ball with a bruising running game and timely passing attack.

    Head coach Skip Holtz (son of Lou) has done a masterful job preparing his kids to play with a chip on their shoulder and not take things for granted which is more than half the battle when you're dealing with college kids.

    Having passed their two toughest tests it will be up to Holtz to keep them focused and prepared for what should be a fairly easy schedule from here on out. They still have to travel to Virginia and to UCF, but other than those two very winnable games the Pirates could sail (aarrgghhh, a pun matey) right into a berth in a BCS bowl game for the first time in school history.

  • As ECU was taking care of business, another team in purple on the other side of the country was busy getting screwed by the always-sketchy Pac-10 officials.

    If you missed it, the Washington Huskies and quarterback Jake Locker engineered a late-game comeback against No. 15 BYU as Locker scored on a 3-yard run with two seconds left on the clock that would have tied the game with the extra point.

    Locker however was flagged for excessive celebration after he tossed the ball over his head in joy before getting mobbed by his equally joyous teammates. He didn't taunt anyone, he didn't dance a jig, all he did was act like any excited kid would have and celebrated the big play with his team.

    The extra point try was pushed back and the subsequent attempt was blocked, preserving the 28-27 win for the Cougars. There's no way to say that Washington would have won the game or even made the extra point from the regular spot, but to have the officials take away their chance at a major upset was downright criminal.

    The official has tried to defend himself saying it was not a judgment call and by the iron-clad letter of the law they were required to throw the flag. But if that's not the biggest load of crap you've ever heard (outside of everything our current President says) something is wrong with you.

    Even the national coordinator for college football officiating, David Parry, said that all calls are judgment calls and even conceded that, "I think it's safe to say on emotional moments officials might become a little more lenient."

    Every week officials across the country swallow their whistles and let minor celebrations like the one from this game go. So why all of a sudden would an official at the end of a tension-filled, near-classic of a football game decide to penalize an excited kid for this?

    The worst part about it is that the loss may have helped to end the tenure of Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham who could have potentially saved his job with a win against a top-15 opponent. As bad as I feel for the Husky players, I feel equally bad for Willingham, who as always handled the disappointment with grace and class. Too bad the officials couldn't do the same.

  • Colombian superstar Camilo Villegas won his first tournament as a member of the PGA Tour this past weekend when he held off Jim Furyk and fellow rising star Anthony Kim in the BMW Championship. The win vaulted Villegas into second place in the season-ending FedEx Cup Playoff standings.

    As well as Villegas played and as talented as he is, I wouldn't get too excited about this victory in terms of his long-term ability to challenge the Tiger Woods' and Phil Mickelson's of the world.

    Yes he hits it a mile and yes he's very marketable, but I see too many inconsistencies in his game for me to call him the "next big thing". His putter is still too moody and as NBC analyst Johnny Miller pointed out, he still tends to get into a negative frame of mind too quickly.

    There's little doubt he'll win again because he has the talent to do so, but I don't see him winning majors in the foreseeable future. He could however be a formidable opponent for the United States in next year's President's Cup should he make the team.

    His all-or-nothing approach is perfect for the team format and he'd certainly bring an energy and excitement to the International team similar to what Sergio Garcia brings to the European team in the Ryder Cup.

  • Scottish star Andy Murray pulled off the biggest win of his career when he beat the top-ranked player in the world Rafael Nadal in four sets en route to his first ever Grand Slam final. Next up for Murray is a date with former No. 1 Roger Federer who Murray actually holds a 2-1 record against.

    You could tell Nadal was not quite himself after an exhausting season in which he won both the French Open and Wimbledon as he passed Federer as the best player in the world. Murray meanwhile stuck to his guns and used some unreal shot-making to wear down the Spanish superstar and is poised to win the first major for his country since 1936.

    He'll have to play even better to beat a re-focused Federer, but it's nice to see someone else toss their hat in the ring on the men's side of the sport which has sorely lacked in depth for several years.

    Soon after this was written, Federer quickly dispatched Murray in straight sets to claim his fifth straight U.S. Open title. Still, it was nice to see a player with as much promise as Murray has shown finally break through and reach a Grand Slam final.

  • I hope I didn't jinx them, but the Tampa Bay Rays are slowly but surely losing their grip on the AL East lead and have put themselves in a position to miss the playoffs altogether. Injuries and a shaky back end of the bullpen have been the culprits as the Rays have lost three straight heading into Tuesday and their lead in the division is down to a game and a half over the surging Red Sox.

    They should be getting rookie of the year candidate Evan Longoria back into their everyday lineup soon, which will help. But unless they can get back to doing what got them into this position, namely playing solid defense and shutting the door once they get a lead, they could very easily go from the feel-good story of the summer to also-rans in a hurry.

  • Speaking of teams on the decline, the Minnesota Twins are going to look back on this as a season of missed opportunities if they fail to make it to the post-season. They choked away yet another lead on Sunday, losing for the seventh time in their last ten games.

    The late game collapses from the Twins have been even more troubling as the AL Central leading White Sox have lost six of their last ten games.

    Unfortunately there is really nothing manager Ron Gardenhire can do in this situation has he has plenty of relievers to choose from with the expanded September rosters, they just haven't executed in the big moments.

    You could argue that early season overuse of guys like Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain has put a strain on the bullpen as a whole, but when All-Star closer Joe Nathan is blowing saves left and right it just comes down to execution more than anything.

    The normally sure-handed Twins defense has been lacking lately as well, contributing in no small way to several of the most recent losses. The Twins are currently tied for 21st in fielding percentage in the major leagues a year after finishing tied for 12th and costly errors have been a common thread for them all season.

    They finish the season with only nine more games at home where they are 47-25 and have to go back out on the road for ten straight games in-between where they are 31-40. Things are not looking good for everyone's favorite small-market club.

  • Kobe Bryant is going to have surgery on a broken pinkie finger that will keep him sidelined for approximately six weeks. The Lakers open their regular season on October 28th, which conveniently enough is right around the time Bryant will be back at full strength.

    You have to hand it to the guy for squeezing as much rest and relaxation time out of his Olympics-shortened off-season as possible. But something tells me he won't receive nearly as much scrutiny for this as he deserves.

    It's obvious he doesn't want to go through training camp or the pre-season, and for a player of Bryant's stature I can't say I blame him. But ask yourself, if this was say, Allen Iverson, wouldn't the media be all over him like a cheap suit for this?

    We're talking about practice here man, practice. What are we talking about? We're talking about practice, man, practice.

    A day after I wrote this Bryant decided to forego the surgery on his finger because he claims the recovery process is too long and would affect his ability to lead the Lakers to a championship.

    This of course sets him up to look like a tough, do-anything-for-the-team kind of guy and will surely help his image, which to this point has been that of a selfish gunner. Nice work Kobe!

  • Former University of California wide receiver DeSean Jackson caught six balls for 106 yards and added a 60-yard punt return in his first game as a pro for the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Good thing the 49ers passed on that guy, twice. No way they could use a productive, talented wideout like that who just happens to be from California and played his college ball 25 minutes (without traffic) from Candlestick Park. What on Earth could offensive guru Mike Martz possibly do with a guy like that?

    Oh by the way, the Niners leading receiver on Sunday in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals was running back Frank Gore who caught four passes for 55 yards, followed closely by tight end Vernon Davis.

  • On a happier note, I got a brand new 40" LCD TV this weekend and it's gorgeous.

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