Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Unrest In Leafs Nation

Simpson MobIt’s been several hours since the Toronto Maple Leafs lost a “must win” game against the Florida Panthers 5-3 and I’m still more steamed than the last cup of coffee I made on my Keurig.

The unofficial start of the Leafs’ “Fail For Nail” campaign for the first overall draft pick occurred within seconds of the opening faceoff when defenseman/whipping boy Luke Schenn whiffed on a clearing attempt in his own zone. Florida’s Marcel Goc slammed home a one-timer from Wojtek Wolski a few seconds later and the rout was on.

And so were the “Fire Wilson!” chants throughout the Air Canada Centre.

My Twitter timeline has been blowing up with calls for the ouster of both head coach Ron Wilson and general manager Brian Burke and rightfully so. The Leafs are unwatchable. They can’t score. They can’t play defense. The goalies can’t make an easy save. The bottom six forwards won’t hit and hardly anyone drops the gloves anymore.

Fire Wilson!

It will now be eight years since the last time the Leafs made the playoffs and the team is no closer to playing meaningful games in April than they were when Paul Maurice was behind the bench, John Ferguson Jr. sent Tukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft, and Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle impersonated synchronized traffic cones on the blue line.

Fire Wilson!

What really makes me angry is this is the second season Burke set the playoffs as a goal and the team will fall woefully short. At least under Maurice the Leafs waited until the last weekend of the season to break my heart.

Fire Wilson!

Luke Schenn, once a hope for the future, is now another former first round pick broken by the pressures of playing hockey in Toronto. He has clearly lost his confidence and needs a change of scenery to get his head straight before he becomes another Jim Benning or Gary Nylund.

Fire Wilson!

The Leafs were supposed to be full of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence upon Burke’s arrival but lately I’ve seen a lot of timidity, stupidity, cowardice and indifference out of this team. On some nights every Leaf not named Mike Brown could skate out there with a carton of eggs and not break any.

Fire Wilson!

The Leafs special teams have been anything but special under Wilson. They are routinely among the worst in the NHL and have cost the Leafs numerous wins along the way. If only they were halfway decent, they would likely make the playoffs.

Fire Wilson!

The players have changed but the results are the same year after year and there is only one solution to this mess

Fire Wilson!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why MLB Player’s Should Be Thanking Ryan Braun

On Wednesday, February 22, Ryan Braun won his appeal of his 50-game suspension due to an alleged positive urinalysis for synthetic testosterone. MLB players should be thanking Braun and not smearing him behind his back.

Braun won his appeal due to questions raised of the chain of custody of his October 1st sample. Instead of immediately shipping it off via FedEx, as required by MLB collective bargaining rules, the collector stored the sample in his refrigerator for about 44 hours. MLB’s procedures for handling samples weren’t tight, and Braun’s lawyer attacked it and they won their case.

Zeb, George, and I were all court reports in the Marine Corps. We sat and listened through hundreds of urinalysis cases. We know that the government has to do everything correctly by the book in order to gain a conviction. It has to be that way. When a person’s name, career, future, etc., is at stake, the burden is on the government (in Braun’s case MLB) to prove that they followed every step, every nuance, of the rules. When it doesn’t happen, the accused goes free. One misstep along the way invalidates the entire procedure.

Must Braun still address how the synthetic testosterone got into his sample? No, because when there’s a chain of custody problem, you will never know if it was truly your sample that was tested. Sure, I bet the seals, labels and initials on the bottle appear to be intact; but can you be 100% positive with a broken chain of custody?

Hard to believe, but I believe the system won. When you have procedures in place that are not followed, it exposes flaws that will have to deal with it. Before the next player is exposed and vilified in the media, which never should have happened in the first place, MLB will have to address these issues and tighten up their procedures.

NHL Trading Deadline Didn't Bring The Big Deal

Monday afternoon came and went without the rumor of a Rick Nash trade coming true.  The only set deal that has been leaked for Nash was the Rangers one.  The Rangers were going to send Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, a 21-year old defensemen, 2011 1st Rounder T.J. Miller, 2010 2nd Round Pick Christian Thomas and a 2012 1st Round Pick for Nash.  So a young player on the NHL roster, 3 picks that may or may not become productive players and another pick.  Scott Howson did the right move in not trading Nash for that.  

Jeff Carter moving to the Kings was a win-win trade for both teams.  The Kings get Carter who was not happy in Columbus and is still a real good player.  The Blue Jackets got Jack Johnson an offensive defenseman which might help with the Columbus anemic offense.   Vancouver might have been the biggest winners for the teams trading on the day of the deadline obtaining Zach Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani from the Buffalo Sabres.  The Sabres did get C Cody Hodgson who is having a breakout year for the Canucks, but won't see the Top 6 forward spots in Vancouver.  Kassian brings toughness to a roster that needs it.  Gragnani will produce offense from the blueline which fits into the way Vancouver plays.  

In my opinion, the big winner in the trades this year are the Minnesota Wild and the haul that they received from the New Jersey Devils.  Minnesota traded Marek Zidlicky for a 2012 2nd Round Pick, a conditional 3rd Round pick in 2013, D Kurtis Foster, F Nick Palmieri, and F Stephane Veilleux.  Who knew that Zidlicky was close to the value of Rick Nash?  

The thing about this year is that most teams that are out of the playoffs if the season ended today didn't trade away their best players in fire sales this year.  The Hurricanes, Lightning, Capitals, Canadiens, and Wild among others besides the Blue Jackets still believe that they can get hot and get into the playoffs.  The are probably fooling themselves, but that is their position.  I do have a feeling that free agency will be wild this summer. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Carling Cup #8

Well, it wasn't pretty (from what I can see watching highlights and reading wrap-ups since I was unable to watch the match) but Liverpool managed to beat Cardiff City 3-2 in penalty kicks to take home the Carling Cup for the eighth time.  Liverpool has had a habit this season of playing down to the level of competition at times and, regardless the importance of this match and how well Cardiff played, this was another example of Liverpool not putting away lesser teams.  So many times this season they've had ties and even losses to lower division teams, which is why they likely won't make the Champions League again.  But another trophy is another trophy, and maybe another comes later this season as Liverpool is still very much alive in the FA Cup.  It's been 16 years since Liverpool has played at Wembley (the first in the new venue), hard to believe it used to be referred to as Liverpool South given all the numerous times Liverpool had hoisted trophies in England's national stadium.
Cardiff put up a valiant effort and you'd have rooted for that underdog to win if you weren't a Reds fan...a heartbreaking way to lose in the end.

<a href='' target='_new' title='Carling Cup Final: Cardiff/Liverpool'>Video: Carling Cup Final: Cardiff/Liverpool</a>

Friday, February 24, 2012

Twin 125s (open forum)

So the races ran but due to a DVR malfunction Zeb and I were unable to watch. We were working during the race and sat down in the evening to watch them and soon realized we only had about half of the first race on the DVR. UGH!!

Zeb reviewed the results online, coupled with what small amount of the race we watched felt the Petty cars ran very well. I like Trevor Bayne and think he is really growing up to be a great racer.

Next time we will triple check the DVR but for any of you who were able to watch the races I would love your comments.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Last In The East and 8 Points Out Of The Playoffs

That is the headline that the Hurricanes from Carolina should be reading right now and feeling good about themselves.  Going into the final 22 games, they have 57 points.  In 8th right now, are the Toronto Maple Leafs at 65 points.  I am guessing that the 8th place team will finish with 92 points in the East.  So this isn't a post about getting on a hot streak and sliding into the playoffs, but one of those posts stating that even though we aren't going to make the playoffs, we are starting to see the team playing up to their potential. 

The Canes are 6-2-2 over their last 10 games.  The two regulation losses?  To the flippin' Islanders!  They got hosed in one of the OT losses to Anaheim.  But the 6 wins are over teams such as Boston, San Jose, and Los Angeles.  The next 5 games are at home and in order just to stay in the playoff race, the Hurricanes need to obtain 8 points.  It is possible.  We can beat Anaheim.  Against Florida, Nashville, NY Rangers, and Tampa Bay, we have 1 win against the lot of them.  But most of those games were  when Paul Maurice was coaching the team.  Kirk Mueller has turned this team around.  I realized that in the last game, a 5-0 blowout over the underachieving Capitals.  Carolina is back to playing a speed game.  And they are actually not backing down from physical challenges. 

The thing that has caused the Hurricanes to become a halfway decent team is the resurgence of Eric Staal.  For some reason, the first 20 to 25 games, Staal looked like he not interested in the game.  Maybe it was playing under Paul Maurice, maybe it was the concussion symptoms that his brother was displaying from a hit that Eric put on him.  Maybe it was because the moon was full and he had a silver bullet nick him in the ear.  Who knows.  But what I do know is that he has shown the league that he is back to his old self for the past month.  And with him back to playing like we know that he can, the team has started to come around to what the fans thought they could be. 

Another reason for optimism is the extensions for the first time in Jim Rutherford's tenure as GM in midseason.  Now he needs to bring in a top line player to solidify this roster.  That is probably the hardest thing for him to do.  Rutherford has done some good things here over the past couple of months, but he still should be promoted and allow the assistant GM to take over the GM role.  If there isn't a way to bring in a Top Line Winger before the trade deadline, then during this offseason coming up, the #1 priority should be obtaining a pure scorer, period.  I am tired of cobbling together wingers to play with our solid lineup of Centers.  We need at least one winger that is a natural at scoring.  We have young defensemen coming up in the next couple of years that will help solidify the backend.  But the gifted scoring option isn't looking like it can be found in Charlotte.  So it is time to go out on the free market or trade for a 1st line winger.  Pair that person up with Skinner and Staal and on paper it would look like a great line to put up points. 

The Hurricanes probably won't make the playoffs this year, but the future is looking brighter.  Justin Peters is starting to look like he can become a nice backup to Cam Ward.  We no longer have Paul Maurice as Head Coach.  And the owner has hinted that he might be willing to increase the payroll even more if the right player is available.  There are storm clouds on the horizon for the teams of the NHL and they are coming from Carolina.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How did you spend your Sunday?

Watching sports, of course, especially since this is my last Sunday off for awhile.  Oh, and the day was finished off by an awesome pork roast.
First, I "watched" Liverpool beat Brighton 6-3 to advance to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.  I wasn't able to actually watch it because the match wasn't on TV here but I kept an eye on the live updates online.  The big story here is that Brighton had THREE own goals, two of them by the same poor chap.  Liverpool will face Stoke City in the next round in March.
Next, I watched pole qualifying for next weekend's Daytona 500.  Carl Edwards won the pole, and the two Petty cars are starting in the top 15.  Kasey Kahne will start around 25th.  You can find where your favorite drivers will start on your own.
While I'm watching Daytona 500 qualifying, I'm also starting to watch the Bruins against the Wild (let me say how much I like the Wild's green home sweater.  It's one of my favorites) and the final round of the PGA tournament from Riviera Country Club, where Lefty would be teeing off last with a share of the lead.  I didn't watch a lot of the Bruins game because I could tell early on it was going to be another of those where they'd outplay and outshoot the other team but continue to be stonewalled by great goaltending.  In this case I was right, as Niklas Backstrom stopped 48 Bruin shots on the way to a 2-0 shutout.

So I focused on the golf tournament to see whether Phil could win two in a row.  Bill Haas holds the clubhouse lead at 7 under with Phil and Keegan Bradley one behind as they play the par 5 17th hole.  So both Phil and Keegan need to birdie the 17th to tie, since there had only been 28 birdies on the 18th hole all week.  Well, they both struggle on the 17th and par it, needing to birdie the 18th to tie and go to a playoff with Haas.  Phil gets on in two at the back of the green and miraculously birdies his 26 footer from the fringe -- miraculous since he hadn't sunk a put all day.  The crowd erupts, of course.  You gotta love Phil's flare for the dramatic.  Next comes Keegan, who calmly sinks a 15 footer.  Unbelievable, they both get the necessary birdies and so we have a three-way sudden death playoff.
Back to 18 again, where all three players par the hole.  Then it's on to the drivable par 4 10th hole -- where Phil ends up in the ruff on one side, Keegan in the bunker on the same side and Haas in the ruff on the other side...none of them have a chance at a birdie.  Haas goes first and decides to shoot "sideways" to a wider part of the green, leaving about a 50 footer.  Phil hits a very good flop shot that still wouldn't hold on and trickles into the bunker on the other side.  Keegan's bunker shot holds on to the back fringe about 15 feet from the hole.  So it looks like the outcome will be three pars and on to the next hole, EXCEPT that Haas sinks his 50 footer for a birdie and the win.  Great golf tournament.
What I didn't have time for was watching the Celtics game tonight, though I did see an update that said KJ didn't start and Rondo was thrown out of the game against the Pistons, and the Celts were trailing..  Oh, and apparently Linsanity struck again today as well, as the Knicks snapped the Mavs winning streak.
The best part of the day though was spending it with someone I care for a lot and eating her wonderful pork roast.

What Would You Give For Rick Nash?

Rick NashDuring last night’s beatdown of my Toronto Maple Leafs, I watched CBC’s Hot Stove segment during the second intermission and Elloitte Friedman stated it would take two prospects, a player (assuming a good one) and a first-round draft pick.

My Leafs are one of the few teams Nash would agree to be traded to, but should they make a trade when they have other glaring needs? The Leafs need a #1 goalie. James Reimer not only has been inconsistent but he’s lost his confidence. They also need a true #1 center. Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski are good players, but on any other team they would be centering the second line. The Leafs also need a top-pairing defenseman that can actually play defense and hit. Luke Schenn, like Reimer, does it infrequently and has also lost his confidence.

Rick Nash won’t stop the puck but he would be just the player to make Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul more dangerous than they already are. What would it take to get him? I’d propose Grabovski, Schenn, either Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne, plus a first round pick. Grabbo is in a slump but he’s capable of nearly a point a game production. Schenn will turn out fine, but a change of scenery rather than seat time in the press box is what he needs right now. Kadri is not a bust, but with Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul in front of him he’ll never get a chance to play on the top two lines in Toronto.

This is a steep price to pay, but how often do you get a chance to acquire a top player like Rick Nash?

2012 Shootout

Since the schedule for my new job will soon have me working every Sunday, watching last night's Bud Shootout will be the only Nascar I get to watch for awhile, thus blog about.
I very much enjoyed the race.  I have been a fan of the pack racing, though I believe this particular reincarnation needs some tinkering.  Is pack racing safer than tandem racing?  The safety issues in my mind with tandem racing are two -- the closing rate and speed disparity of the different tandems but perhaps the bigger issue was the fact that the pusher couldn't see ANYTHING except for the bumper of the car he was pushing.  The safety issues with pack racing are obvious -- sometimes 43 cars all in one big pack, unable to separate from each other; thus, no matter how great these drivers are, someone else's mistake or lack of judgment will eventually collect several cars in a track-blocking melee.  And given the rule change that has lowered the spoiler in these cars (in an attempt to get away from the tandem racing), the rear ends of these cars are very, very unstable.  Hopefully an adjustment can be made to make them more stable but still make it difficult to hook up in a tandem.
Enough of that boring stuff and on to a little talk about the race itself.  I am no fan of Kyle Busch.  We all know the reasons why someone would not be a fan, so I don't need to go into that.  But if you didn't already think he was the best wheelman in the sport, you need look no further than not one but two saves he made last night that I dare say no one else in the sport could have made.
Look at the angle of sidewaysness (made that up for fun) of his car in the above photo.  Tell me another driver who could have saved his car at 180 plus mph in that position; and his car was in this position twice, not once, during this "wreck," say nothing about the fact that he's going from the 30 degrees of banking to the flatter infield.  One of the very best saves I've ever seen and he had another save very much like it later in the race.  Somehow after saving his car twice, with some damage, he was able to push Tony Stewart to the front on the last lap and then pass Stewart by a bumper at the finish line for the win.
Very entertaining, white knuckle racing last night.  I'm wicked bummed I won't get to see the 500.  Kudos go out to Marcos Ambrose in the Richard Petty Motorsports #9 car, who finished 3rd.  The Tasmanian Devil is looking like he's taking well to this style of racing.  I think if Kyle Busch had tried to pass Tony Stewart 100 or so feet sooner, this race would have fallen to Ambrose.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Win #40 for Lefty

Being that there was not much on TV this Sunday for a sports fan, I found the PGA Pebble Beach ProAm on and see my man Lefty has just taken the lead.  Wouldn't you just love to play at Pebble Beach, and play reasonably well at that? (For me that would mean not being a complete embarrassment)  It was always one of my favorite courses to play when playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour.
Getting caught up, I find out that Charlie Wi had a 3 stroke lead over Tiger Woods and 5 over Phil to start the day.  Then Tiger has his struggles and Phil goes 5 under in the first 6 holes.  Going to the back 9, Phil had a one shot lead over some nobody.  He only had one birdy through the next six holes but poured in two 30-40 footers for par, one on the same hole that Tiger had just put one in from the bunker for a birdie.
So not only am I watching Phil play well at one of the most gorgeous and storied courses in the world, he's playing with Tiger; and you can see them both playing off each other and Phil getting the best of Tiger on this day.  If they had been playing match-play, the match would've been over after 13 holes, Phil winning 7-5.  Phil and Tiger have only been paired together 10 times, with Tiger winning three of those tourneys, Phil 2.
Oh, and our favorite Mayor of Carmel made a booth visit   Another interesting side note:  Bill Belichik played in this tournament with Ricky Barnes, whose father was a punter for Patriots back in the '70s.
So I'm heading back to work tomorrow and likely won't be blogging as much; and since I haven't blogged about golf in a long time, I thought I'd at least write a short one about Lefty's 40th career PGA Tour victory, his fourth at Pebble Beach.  He fired a 64 to easily take home the trophy, becoming the 8th player ever with 40 plus victories.
One last anecdote:  Coming off the green, his wife Amy gives him a hug and says "I'm so happy for you.  What a round...are you kidding me?!"

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The North West Darby

manchester Pictures, Images and Photos Obviously I was pressing my luck challenging Rick in this latest edition of the North West Darby, Liverpool versus Manchester United in the English Premier League, given that it was being played at Old Trafford and Liverpool had had decent success against ManU so far this year in Premier League and FA Cup matches.  So ManU was certainly due and the odds-on favorite.
I didn't realize when I challenged Rick that every meeting between these two teams is referred to as the North West Darby.  I presumed one matchup a year was set aside and given that title for bragging rights.  Obviously Rick is a ManU fan and I a newly-minted Liverpool fan, thus the potential for a blog challenge; but this matchup is always a big deal given that it's a matchup between the two most storied and successful teams in the history of English pro football -- a matchup akin to the Red Sox versus the Yankees in a sport that's far, far more popular worldwide.  It is also a big deal for this match because ManU is two points out of the league lead and Liverpool four points out of fourth place, which at season's end would mean a berth for them in next year's Champions League.
The drama started even before the game, given that this was the first meeting of the two sides since Luis Suarez' return from an eight-game suspension for racial abuse against ManU's Patrice Evra, and then Suarez' apparent refusal to shake Evra's hand pre-game.
I won't  speak too much of the actual game play -- it's not my forte even in sports I'm literate in -- but I will say from the outset that ManU looked the better team with their precise passing, even on deep balls; whereas, Liverpool, especially when they had a break in the offensive end, lacked the communication for that last critical pass.  But Glen Johnson of Liverpool missed the best opportunity of the first half, which ended scoreless.  I went and took a shower, started a load of laundry and came back later than I would have thought -- 15 minutes into the second half and saw ManU was up 2-0.  What did I miss?  Apparently two Wayne Rooney goals.  Liverpool did put on a lot of pressure late, resulting in a consolation goal for Luis Suarez at the 80 minute mark, and a couple of other great missed opportunities for the Reds, resulting in a 2-1 win for Manchester United.
Well, on to the next match for Liverpool, with particular focus on the upcoming Carling Cup final and 5th round matchup in the FA Cup.  So if Liverpool does fall short of the top 4, winning those cups will make the season.  They have only themselves to blame, given how many ties Liverpool has had this season against the bottom third of the Premier League.

(Note:  I know how to spell derby but for effect I'm spelling it the way it's pronounced over there)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Not Really About the Maine Red Claws

JMC and I went to see the Maine Red Claws play the Erie Bay Hawks in a D-League game at the Expo in Portland on January 20th. One of us was going to write a blog about our attendance but we never got around to it and there really wasn't much to write about, since I have blogged about going there once already and nothing stood out (I thought at the time anyway) about the game itself. There are a couple of funny anecdotes that happened on the way to the game, which I'll get to in a moment; but as far as commenting on the game based on what we saw that night, I would have only commented that the Red Claws were overmatched, despite a reasonably close final score of 122-113, especially in that they had no answer for Erie's 6' 3" point guard, who ended up having a triple/double. You can see video highlights of the game here, which if you do will give away the surprise.
First, I'll go back to the brief anecdotes and then I'll reveal why I finally decided to blog about going to the game. I parked the car where I always do when I go to see the Sea Dogs or Red Claws (the venues being side by side) at an office building parking lot about 5 blocks away. Our intention was to grab a bite to eat somewhere between the car and the arena, and we decided on Amato's Italian Sandwich Shop on St. John's Street.  We had over a half hour to get our order, eat and walk the 2 or 3 blocks to the game. So I ordered a Cuban and some hot wings, JMC ordered a meatball sub and a dessert pastry. It took a good 10 minutes for our order to be ready (JMC's dad called while we're waiting and he can tell you that story) and just before it was, JMC leans over to me and says, "You know, there's no tables in here."
So now we have this messy sit-down food to-go and it's like 30 degrees out. So we're walking down the sidewalks, over snow banks eating this messy food with our fingers freezing, throwing chicken bones in the snow banks.  (This is where you laugh heartily because you got a good visual)  The other story is that we got to the arena before our food was finished but we were mostly full. So we bet on whether, if we left the bags of food on the sidewalk against the arena, the food would still be there when we came out. I won the bet because I said it would be because it was too cold and the game was on, so the arena workers wouldn't bother. If I've left out anything, hopefully JMC will fill you in in the comments.
So why am I finally deciding to write this blog? Well, for a few days, even if you don't follow the NBA, you've probably been hearing about the rookie point guard who's been a sensation for the NY Knicks in their last three games. Well, given the fact this point guard is of Asian decent, you'd think it would've clicked sooner than this morning that the Erie Bay Hawks are the NY Knicks D-League team and the unguardable point guard we saw a few weeks ago was Asian; in fact, his last name was Lin. Yeah, that Jeremy Lin...the Asian decent, Harvard grad point guard who's been lighting it up for the Knicks lately.
This guy right here:
Go to and it's his face you see first, even before LeBron.  The Knickerbockers host the Lakers tonight, with Jeremy Lin as the likely starting point guard. "Lin, an undrafted guard from Harvard, has led the Knicks to three straight wins, scoring more than 20 points in each game."  And even though Lin was born in the US, the Chinese and Taiwanese are scrambling to air his games.  And I thought all I had to talk about was chicken wings on frozen fingers.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Truth is, he's #2

That above title may not be such a big deal in most circumstances but when you're #2 on the Boston Celtics all-time scoring list, that, sir, is a big freakin' deal.

That's #2 for the most successful franchise in the history of the NBA. Granted, Celtics' history is not littered with the greatest scorers of all time -- they always won as a team -- but he passed Larry "The Legend" Bird to get to this perch and I think it about time we start to appreciate the career of Paul Pierce. No, he will not be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time but he will be a Hall of Famer when his career is done.
Watch this video of the guys from CSNNE argue about Paul's place in Celtic history.

At 34 years of age he has a few more years to pad his stats from where he currently is, which is just below 22,000 career points and a .45 field goal percentage. As the guys in the video point out, he's a very good all-around player. He also has a ring and was the Finals MVP. He is currently 28th on the NBA all-time scoring list. Here's a list of the players ahead of him on the list who are not in the Hall of Fame: Kobe, Shaq, Reggie Miller, Iverson, KG, Dirk, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan and Gary Payton. Take a look at this list and maybe more telling is all the Hall of Famers who scored fewer points than The Truth, guys like Magic, McAdoo and George Gervin.
No matter how you shake it though, this was a great night for Paul, a player who wears the green very well.

How I Won The Picks

As a result of winning both the regular season weekly picks and then carrying it on through the playoffs and Super Bowl, Zeb has asked me to post a blog. Now, I don’t know if he meant posting how I won or a blog post of my choice, but I’m going to go with how I won and post a blog of my choice at a later time – promise, Zeb.

I didn’t start the season off really great, actually being in third place and down a couple of picks early on. I guess I was picking teams on past reputations, which was hard to do with the lock-out and short preseason. Some teams started off really hot, like the Redskins and Bills, which I stayed away from because of last season’s performances, and I lost points there; and, ultimately, when I went to pick them to win, they showed their true mettle and started to lose.

Another difficulty in making my choices was teams playing so well one week and then losing so badly the next? I think a lot of us didn’t expect the Eagles to start so poorly, the drastic fall of the Buccaneers, and the Chargers fade in the middle of the season.

I started watching who the pros were picking. I’d search websites to see if I could glean an edge that maybe others hadn’t seen. I started playing the pick ‘em on Yahoo to see if my picks were far afield from others, and I also looked to see who my competition on this board was picking to see if I was missing something.

I got lucky that my personal favorite team, (remember I’m not just a fan but part owner), the Packers, won their first 15 games. I anticipated the resurgence of the Lions, the depth of the Bears struggles with the loss of Cutler, and the glee of watching the Vikings downward spiral. I also knew that the loss of Peyton Manning to the Colts was extremely costly to them, and went with the “Suck for Luck” attitude.

It took me until week 4 to win the weekly pick ‘em, but I was still down to Zeb by four picks. However, in week 5, Zeb went 5-8, which I went 8-5 to close the gap and trail by one win. Week 6 saw the freaky week where Zeb initially picked against his team, and then he and I end up equally split in the total points for Monday’s game. Week 7 was when I took the lead in picks and weekly wins and never gave it up.

I want to thank Brent for keeping tally throughout the season. I know his time was tight, but he always managed to get the results out for us. It’s a long season, which means it’s a long, hard chore for him to do.

I also want to thank everyone who played this season, especially some of the wild ways in which you guys used your imagination to select your teams. Way to spice things up to keep it from getting boring.

So, next year? Let’s say we do it again.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

They Overachieved

Just to add some balance to the New England Patriots' 2011 season, not that it will help take the sting away from losing a Super Bowl they should have won; but the Patriots did overachieve and did so in a big way.
What else can you say about a team with the #31 defense in the league (around #16 if you look at points allowed)?  This is a team with huge, gaping deficiencies on both sides of the ball.  Defensively they had no pass rush to speak of, certainly no pass rusher who scared anyone; and isn't this the most anemic secondary you can remember playing in a Super Bowl?  They didn't have anything remotely resembling a shutdown cornerback.  And singling out these two most glaring weaknesses takes the spotlight off a linebacking corps that is average at best.  Hey NFL fans of teams other than the Patriots, name a member of the Pats defense not named Vince Wilfork?  I'll be surprised if you can even come up with Patrick Chung or Jerod Mayo.
Then let's look at the offense.  This is arguably the best offense in the league when it comes to scoring points but who on that side of the ball would you drool over having on your team other than Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski?  Everyone says Wes Welker is a system player but I won't blame if you want Wes or maybe Aaron Hernandez.  But you have to admit it's amazing what the Patriots do considering they have no deep threat whatsoever and only have a marginal running game, which by the way makes it even more amazing how well the Patriots do with play action.  Basically every defense knows the Patriots are going to throw inside a little box between the linebackers and safeties; and even when defenses over-compensate to try to take that away, the Patriots still manage to run up big yards and points.
So just imagine what the Patriots could do with just an above-average pass rusher and an above-average cover cornerback on defense and a wideout who could actually get behind coverage just once in a while.
Oh, lest I forget, the other way the Patriots overachieved was the play of the defense in this Super Bowl.  Now it can be said they couldn't get Manning off the field at times and, other than a couple of sacks early, were unable to put any pressure on him.  But if before the game was played you were told that defense was going to hold that Giant offense to 13 points until 4 minutes to go in the game, wouldn't you have run to your bookie to place an enormous amount of cash on the Patriots to win that Super Bowl?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI

Hopefully writing this will be somewhat cathartic -- I doubt it.  Right now this hurts more than Super Bowl XLII, which has lingered with me as badly as the 1986 World Series.  Not that winning SB XLVI would have erased XLII but the way we lost yesterday is doubly painful.
Given the way these two teams were playing coming into this game, with the Giants' offense nearly as potent as the Patriots' and that the Giants' defense was capable of giving the Patriots problems, coupled with a Patriot defense that only scares Patriot fans, you had to think this was a terrible matchup for the Patriots.  Given that background, if you were told that the Patriot defense would hold the Giants to 15 points with four minutes to go in the game and that the Giant defensive front would not harass Tom Brady during this game but that the Giants still won, I think you'd have said I was crazy.  Tom Brady had a bad game.  He refused to take a victory that was repeatedly offered to him.
Despite how he played, just one break going the Patriots' way in this game would have changed the outcome.  I'm not saying all the luck went the Giants' way -- well, yes, I am.  Even if I disregard the fact that the Giants fumbled three times but got away with them all, there's still the fact that they caught Tom Brady on a bad day.  You couldn't ask for better luck than that.
The shoulda-coulda-woulda list from a Patriot fan standpoint will linger a long, long time.
  • The intentional grounding call on the Patriots' first play of the game (more on that later), which results in a safety and two points for the Giants, as well as a punt and great field position for the Giants
  • The offside penalty on the Patriots during that subsequent drive, which nullified the Pats recovering a Giant fumble, resulting in the Giants getting 7 points instead of none
  • The Tom Brady interception in the 3rd quarter with the Patriots already up by 8 points (reminiscent of a similar interception in the end zone, taking 3 points off the board, in SB XLII) (also reminiscent of the interception he threw in this year's AFC Championship game that nearly cost them that game); we're driving and it's first down and he decides to throw a jump ball to a tight end with a bad ankle.  On replay I have to think Brady was trying to throw that ball much deeper than it went.  That's the only place where Gronkowski was open.  The Giants take that interception and drive back down the field for a FG
  • Except that wouldn't have happened if another fumble by the Giants didn't have eyes or the fact that Rob Ninkovich is offside on a 3rd down play where we stopped them.  This one stands out in a big way.  Obviously if we had recovered that fumble, it's a gift 3 points, maybe more and puts the game away; but even the offside gives us the ball back with good field position instead of them taking that lucky break and going down and scoring a FG
  • Three Giant fumbles in this game that the Patriots never got.  I've already covered two of them.  The 3rd was a strip of a Giant receiver in Patriot territory.  As the ball is coming out, there are four Patriot defenders five yards or less away toward the goal line and 3 Giant players at least five yards away all back in the other direction.  Which way did the ball bounce when it came out?  Toward the Giant players and nowhere near the Patriots.  I can't remember if that's a drive where the Giants scored 3 or 7 but they did score.
  • Despite all of the previous ones, they're moot if the "greatest QB of all time" does his job.  The Patriots are up by two points with the ball and are driving toward Giant territory, burning time off the clock.  Brady throws a bad pass to an open Welker, causing Wes to have to leap to his fullest while on the run and completely rotate around.  Does Welker catch that ball 3/4 of the time anyway?  Probably.  But he was wide open and even a half-ass pass is easier to catch than that one.  On the very next play he badly throws behind an open Deion Branch coming across the middle.  The throw is so badly behind Branch that if we'd had any luck in this game, the defender would've been six inches closer to Branch and then run over him as Branch tried to stop to catch this ball.  The result of these two bad throws at a minimum is stopping a Patriot drive that would've been first down within Giant territory with about 4 minutes to go in the game.
I've changed my mind about whining about the intentional grounding call.  It is the kind of call where the refs help determine the outcome though.  NEVER have I seen intentional grounding called on first down where the QB is not scrambling nor in the grasp and the ball is thrown down the middle of the field.  Was it intentional grounding?  Technically yes (don't bother bringing up the tuck rule -- each bad call stands on its own).  The problem I have is that the rule is backwards.  The rule is written supposedly to take interpretation of intent out of the game.  Well, Brady's ball didn't look like intentional grounding to anyone except for one ref initially, whereas the one Manning throws much later in the game (just like thousands every year) looks obviously intentional but is not technically.
But it should have been and maybe still was irrelevant because somehow the Patriot defense holds the Giants to 7 points in the first half and the Patriots score a touchdown just before halftime to take a 10-9 lead.  And then the Patriots get the ball first for the second half and drive down the field for a TD, going up by 8 points.  They have the momentum and it looks like the Patriot D has the Giants stopped again, but for the aforementioned Ninkovich offside.
I'll wrap this up by using a comment I posted on Facebook last night, that maybe now (probably not) the Patriot fan base and sports media will finally get off Drew Bledsoe's back.  Since the last Patriot Super Bowl victory, Tom Brady is something like 4 and 4 in the playoffs, with two one-and-outs in '09 and '10, a poor showing in this year's AFC Championship and two subpar performances in the last two Super Bowls, the latter two eminently winnable games that even a lesser QB would have won.  These two would have truly put him at the top of the QB heap -- hell, even one of the two would've secured his legacy.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Watching A Couple Of Big Trucks Play

Last night in Fargo, ND, the Advanced Auto Parts Monster Jam tour performed at the Fargo Dome.  It was an exciting show, but with Monster Jam holding 6 different shows this weekend throughout the country, it makes sense that there were lesser known trucks here.  8 trucks made it here and it must mean that Fargo is bigger on the scale of shows than others that only had 6 show up.  Half of those trucks didn't really do much or even make it out to the freestyle event.

The 8 trucks that were there were Desperado (pictured above), Martial Law, Michigan Ice Monster, Ground Pounder, Iron Outlaw, Bounty Hunter, Spiderman, and Grave Digger.  The drivers that you associate with those trucks weren't there.  There was no Randy Andersen driving Bigfoot, Bari Musawwir driving Spiderman, no Jimmy Cretin driving Bounty Hunter.  Some fans were disappointed in that, but it didn't detract from the show.

The first event was quad racing.  They billed one team from Minneapolis and one team from Fargo.  (Really!!!)  Anyways, it was 6 laps of watching quads go around in a circle.  For me, it brought back memories, but my son didn't care for it.  I guess it is there to extend the show length.

The first event for the monster trucks was the Sky Wheelie contest.  The winner of that was Spiderman.  Personally, I think that Desperado was cheated out of the victory.  He did two nice on the back wheels rolling over the crush cars, While Spicerman did the half jump/half wheelie to get the win.  No problems for anybody there, but in the racing, oh boy, would there be problems.

Next we had quad racing again.  This was the 2nd heat.  Same people, same quads, just a different race.  On, and they had the storyline of the two team captains of the quad teams getting into an argument about how each other was racing.  Can you feel the excitement?  And the greatest thing was that each of the captains weren't in the running to win the races.  And the racer that won the race would go by the captains and not get interviewed by the emcee, but the captains would.  Classic.

Next up on the docket was the Monster Truck racing event.  The results:

1st Round
Ice Monster beat Desperado who broke a rear drive shaft during the event.
Ground Pounder beat Spiderman
Grave Digger beat Iron Outlaw
Bounty Hunter beat Martial Law after Martial Law corkscrewed through his first corner and flipped himself.

2nd Round
Grave Digger beat Ice Monster
Bounty Hunter beat Ground Pounder

Bounty Hunter beat Ground Pounder
Grave Digger broke a front drive shaft in the second round contest and could not make it out onto the course.  Ice Monster was working on what I believe were electrical issues, so he couldn't replace Grave Digger.  So we got a rematch of the semi-finals and Ground Pounder was never in it.

We came to the main event for the quad racing.  Team Fargo wins, the two captains call each other dirty and cry babies and the winner doesn't get interviewed again and has his quad stall on him when he tries to get back to the pits.

Then we had Megasaurus make his appearance.  The backstory and music were overkill for what he actually did. 

Intermission came and we had entertainment from the extreme RC club out of Minneapolis.  They decided to have their little RC cars jump the obstacles that the Monster Trucks would in freestyle.  One guy jumped his Maximum Destruction RC car off the highest jump and it landed on the roof.  Needless to say that vehicle needed to get fixed after the show.  The body was all mangled and it was limping off the floor with one wheel being dragged behind.

Out of intermission it is Freestyle time.  Desperado makes it back in time just to roll around on his wheels through the course.  He is leaking some sort of fluid.  Gets a score of 10.  Next is Martial Law who has some sort of problems after he rolls in the racing and goes about 30 seconds and parks it.  The best part of that was watching him throw out his steering wheel and gloves out of the front windowless opening in frustration.  Next up was the Michigan Ice Monster who sheered off his front Drivers Side wheel after 12 seconds.  He was done after that.  Ground Pounder reported that he was done due to mechanical issues and didn't make it out for the event.  Next was Iron Outlaw who made it all 90 seconds and was rewarded with a score of 21.  Bounty Hunter came out and did well with a 24 and ran about 2 minutes extra after the event was over for him.  Bounty Hunter was the only truck that did donuts here, successfully.  Spiderman came out and received a 26.  And he decided to extend his run, only he tried to perform a donut and promptly flipped onto his roof.  Finally was Grave Digger, he did his jumps, nothing else and was awarded the win with a 27.

The last event of the night was a 6 car demolition derby.  Went about 8 minutes.  One car almost went airborne twice due to angles he took and went over the front of vehicles he was trying to hit.

Overall, it was a nice show.  One thing that I would do different for the Monster Trucks is keep all of them in back and introduce them individually.  Here all but Spiderman and Grave Digger were already out on the floor and sitting there.  Those two got special entrances for the crowd.  I don't understand why Monster jam doesn't do that for all the trucks.  I understand that the Michigan Ice Monster and Martial Law aren't wholesale brand names for fans let alone people that don't follow the sport week in and week out.  But make them special for those fans in attendance.  Make them want to know more about that specific truck and make them want to purchase the merchandise (more on that in a minute) of those trucks that they saw.  Don't make it look like they are the generic ones and have a couple that stand out from the rest.

As for merchandise, there are more trucks out there than Grave Digger.  (To Monster Jam marketers and merchandising executives:  We want items from the trucks we are seeing that night and not just Grave Digger.)  Digger had 6 different shirts, 3 different caps, 2 fleece blankets, and specialty merchandise geared towards him at the venue.  Spiderman had a shirt, hat, and puffy pillow.  Same with Iron Man.  Monster Mutt Rottweiler had about the same.  There was no merchandise for 6 of the trucks there.  I was willing to shell out inflated prices to have a Martial Law T-Shirt there.  I would have even though about a Bounty Hunter or Michigan Ice Monster T-Shirt, but they were no where to be found.  But I could have a Grave Digger 2-DVD set about the career of the truck or the toy sword that was made for the vehicle.  Make one of your stands non-Grave Digger and the other 3 or 4 that you do have heavy on Grave Digger.  But make it where it doesn't seem that the only thing you are worried about is the overhyped truck that is 30 years old.

Like I said before, I enjoyed the show and I would recommend anyone that wants to have a good time for a couple of hours to attend a show.  Even if you aren't a gearhead.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

NHL Trade Deadline

Coming out of the All Star break is the time when the trade deadline talks heat up; and since at least two of our writers' teams are likely to be active, the Leafs and the Canes, we should be talking about it.  I will also not be surprised if the Bruins do something, for two reasons which I'll get to in a bit.
Suter and or Weber could be dealt

This excellent article in The Bleacher Report is a good starting point, as they point out the 12 teams most likely to be active before the trade deadline, including Carolina and Toronto; and it's their opinion that the big prize out there will be Nashville's Ryan Suter, followed by any one of three players from the Anaheim Ducks.  Suter would be one helluva get, one that would fit perfectly in a Bruin sweater; but he will come at a high price, a price that would cost the Bruins their chemistry potentially.
The Carolina Hurricanes need to rebuild and they do have pieces of value, Ruutu key among them.  They won't (or certainly shouldn't) trade Ward, Skinner or Staal but everyone else should be available.  The Toronto Maple Leafs are very much in the hunt for a playoff spot, their GM has a history of making blockbuster moves and they have to keep moving forward since they are the franchise with the most pressure to win in the league.
I'll leave it up to my colleagues to comment on their respective teams further.  I'll just close by making a couple of comments about the Bruins.  What has been different between the unbeatable team of December to mid-January and the team of the last couple of weeks?  Defense.  And it seems the Bruins always covet defensemen, especially puck-handling, power-play-leading defensemen.  Since the last two attempts to fill that void on this team have seemingly failed with the underwhelming play of Joe Corvo, I will not be surprised to see the Bs pick up that kind of player, especially if they can get that kind of guy without giving up a top guy from the current roster or a high prospect.
The other way the Bruins could get involved in a trade, and involved in a very big way, is if they decide now is the time to trade Tim Thomas.  Reasons not to trade Tim Thomas:  He's the best goalie in the league and the biggest reason the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last year.  Arguably they cannot repeat without him.  There are, however, many more reason to trade him, though I'm not so sure between now and the trade deadline will be the time.  What is going to push this more than anything else in my opinion is if Tuukka Rask says this is his last season in Boston unless the Bs become his team.  That would create a dilemma for the Bruins obviously but one I would prefer they address after this season.  I would keep Thomas, splitting time pretty much equally with Rask through the end of the season and then ride the hot goalie through the playoffs.  Now if a guy like Ryan Suter could be had for Thomas, I'd have to consider it.  That's not going to happen since Nashville doesn't need a goalie; but if someone overwhelmed the Bruins with an offer for Thomas, they'd have to consider it.  Rask needs to be resigned and if that means he has to be made the #1 goalie to achieve that, then so be it.  He's not quite 25 years old, is having arguably a better season thus far than Tim Thomas, has had a fantastic season as the starting goalie once before; and Tim Thomas is almost 38 years old, is not quite the goalie he was last year and will never bring you more in return than in the middle of the season when teams are most desperate, to say nothing about the possibility that he's becoming a locker room liability.  It would be nothing if not exciting to see what might be thrown at the Bruins in an effort to get a championship goalie.