Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

March is upon us

As I type this on February 28, conference basketball tournaments are getting underway, and the excitement will build in the final two weeks leading up to Selection Sunday.

The NCAA tournament is difficult to predict and often comes down to which team can gain favorable matchups, but here are five things it certainly helps to have in your arsenal come March, along with an early handicap of which teams might have those tools and which should be looking over their backs.

1) Great guards -- No position in college basketball is more important than the man who has the ball in his hands the most. And the more players that can do it -- usually the guards -- the better off a team will be. The tournament is all about pressure, and the teams that respond can trust their guards to bring the ball upcourt and set up plays no matter how tough the defense is or how loud the crowd is. The point guard is particularly critical. A point guard doesn't necessarily need to be experienced (see Mike Bibby, 1997 Arizona) or a great shooter (see Wayne Turner, 1996 Kentucky) but he must be confident and able to make quick decisions.

Case in point: North Carolina in 2005 (Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants), Maryland in 2002 (Juan Dixon and Steve Blake), Michigan State in 2000 (Mateen Cleaves and Charlie Bell).
But don't always count on it: No one really applies. Maybe Syracuse in 2003 had the weakest guards of recent champions, but that's only because Gerry McNamara was a freshman, and Kueth Duany and Billy Edelin role players. But they combined for 41 points in the championship game win.
This year's models: Villanova has the best four-guard rotation in recent NCAA history. Pittsburgh (Carl Krauser), Illinois (Dee Brown) and West Virginia (J.D. Collins) have battle-tested senior quarterbacks. Duke has a guard who happens to be the country's best player.
Watch out: The sport is now driven by guards, which means no team is totally vulnerable in this area. But will teams like Memphis and Ohio State, which missed the tournament last year, get the performances they need from their backcourts in crunch time?

Senior leadership -- With the pressure of the tournament also comes a bias toward the teams that have the most experience, inside and outside the tournament. Senior leadership comes in many forms. Sometimes it's a collection of teams that have been together for a while (Michigan State in 2000, Villanova in 1985), sometimes it's a senior star (Kansas in 1988, Duke in 2001), sometimes it's just a solid role player or two who form the team's backbone (UConn in 1999, North Carolina in 2005).
Case in point: Those listed above. Villanova and the 1983 NC State team were hardened by four years of experience in two of the nation's toughest conferences and certainly stand out.
But don't always count on it: Syracuse and Connecticut won back-to-back titles with only one senior each playing significant minutes. But when you have players such as Carmelo Anthony, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, you can forgive a little youth.
This year's model: West Virginia has the best senior class in the nation. Duke has the senior duo of Shelden Williams and Redick. Connecticut has three key seniors in Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown and Hilton Armstrong. Michigan State has seniors Paul Davis, Maurice Ager and Matt Trannon back from a Final Four team.
Watch out: Memphis has three freshmen and a sophomore as four of its top five scorers (behind senior Rodney Carney. Texas' top three players (Daniel Gibson, LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker) are underclassmen.

Depth -- Six games in three weeks doesn't sound like a lot. After all, teams usually play the same number of games in the tournament that they do every week. However, coming off a tough regular season and grueling conference tournament, it helps to have extra bodies to bring off the bench. Depth also helps a team that has multiple offensive options, in case a key shooter goes cold.
Case in point: Kentucky's championship teams in 1996 and 1998 seemed to come at you in waves. Last year's Tar Heels had seven legitimate scoring threats.
But don't always count on it: Okafor still played 38 of 40 minutes in a championship game that was over by halftime in 2004. Duke has won three championships in 15 years largely on the strength of their starters.
This year's model: Florida, coached by former Kentucky assistant Billy Donovan, has nine players averaging double-figure minutes. Boston College also has nine and plays a linebacker style of basketball.
Watch out: Duke rarely goes more than six or seven deep, and they've paid for it against physical Big Ten teams like Indiana in 2002 and Michigan State last year. Both times the Blue Devils ran out of gas.

A veteran coach -- Players come and go in four years (or less), but college basketball coaches seem to stick around forever. Of all the factors that determine NCAA champions, this is one of the most telling. Whether its legends like Krzyzewski, Smith and Knight; lifers like Calhoun, Gary Williams and Izzo; or finally-winning-the-big-ones like Olson, Boeheim and Roy Williams, the list of championship coaches is indeed select.
Case in point: Nearly every champion in recent memory has a coach you've heard of.
But don't always count on it: Steve Fisher is the all-time example here, winning the title as an interim coach at Michigan in 1989. Tubby Smith won it in his first year at Kentucky, but he had a solid track record before coming to the Wildcats.
This year's model: There's Krzyzewski and Calhoun, of course. John Calipari made the Final Four at UMass in 1996 and has rebuilt a solid program at Memphis.
Watch out: If there was ever a year for the trend to reverse, it would be this one, with the likes of Jay Wright, Jamie Dixon, Mark Few, Thad Matta and Bruce Pearl coaching top 10 teams for much of the season. But all of them will have to get past either Coach K or Coach C.

Momentum -- The conference tournament is a grind for most teams, and some argue that it helps to rest your players a bit to get them ready for the Big Dance. But nothing helps prepare a team for the atmosphere of the NCAAs like a conference tournament, in which lower-seeded teams are desperate for wins and ticket distribution ensures an equity that keeps home-court advantages to a minimum in the major conferences.
Case in point: No team takes the conference tournament more seriously than Duke. The Blue Devils have won six of the past seven and preceded titles in 1992 and 2001 with ACC tournament championships. NC State keyed its run to the title in 1983 by winning the ACC tournament just to secure a bid. UConn outlasted Pitt in the 2004 Big East final, and Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament in 2000.
But don't always count on it: In deep conferences like the Big East and ACC, sometimes the best team doesn't win its league tournament but saves its best stuff for the bigger tournament to come. Maryland in 2002 and Syracuse in 2003 followed this path.
This year's model: Conference tournaments are yet to come, but of the top teams, only Duke, Gonzaga, Memphis and George Washington have won each of their last 10, and three of those play in non-power conferences. UConn and 'Nova are 9-1 with the only losses coming to each other.
Watch out: Michigan State and Florida have split their last 10 games. Pitt, Iowa and West Virginia are 6-4.


Monday, February 27, 2006

Long Time Coming

Following an exhaustive five-year process, the Baseball Hall of Fame today announced the election of 16 men and one woman from the days when the sport was not integrated. This careful analysis and selection process, and the result from it, help baseball acknowledge the great legacy of the Negro Leagues and the black baseball that preceded it.

I've criticized the Hall of Fame selection process for being too rigorous in the past -- by trying too hard to find the greatest players in baseball history, they've ignored some who can claim legitimacy to that distinction. Those include the likes of Goose Gossage, Dick Allen, Ron Santo, Bert Blyleven and Tony Oliva, in my opinion.

So it's refreshing to see the committee generously choose 17 of 39 candidates. A surprising omission might be Buck O'Neil, the joyous ambassador and raconteur who has carried the mantle of the Negro Leagues as one of its last living participants. The committee didn't give specific reasons for selection or omission, though it's probable that O'Neil -- a steady but unspectacular hitter and a consistent fielder -- didn't have the stats that other candidates did. (This is the same kind of "logic" other Hall committees have used to justify ignoring the folks listed above.)

Here's a quick rundown of the 17 people elected. Comments are from The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues by James A. Riley or from The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract by Bill James.

Effa Manley -- The first woman inducted into the Hall. Co-owner of the Newark Eagles with her husband Abe from 1936-1946 and then sole owner for two more years, Manley was "a woman ahead of her time," according to Davis. "When Branch Rickey and other owners began signing her players, she fought for just compensation, and Bill Veeck paid her when he signed Larry Doby."

Alex Pompez -- A Cuban, he owned the New York Cubans for 15 years, and helped organize the first Negro World Series in 1924. In 1948, his team became a farm team for the New York Giants, and says Davis, "In this capacity he was responsible for many black players being signed by the major leagues."

Cum Posey -- He was associated with the most famous Negro Leagues franchise of all, the Homestead Grays, for 35 years. Posey was player, manager, booking agent, business manager and eventually the owner of the Grays. He signed the likes of Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson and Buck Leonard. Davis cites his creativity: "Posey was an innovative owner, initiating night ball years before the major leagues explored the possibility of playing night games."

J.L. Wilkinson -- Owner of another powerhouse team, the Kansas City Monarchs, Wilkinson's franchise sent 27 players to the major leagues after integration, more than any other team. Jackie Robinson played for the Monarchs, as did Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks and Elston Howard. He also stumped for night baseball, according to Davis, "installing a portable lighting system on the beds of trucks in 1930." More admirably, Wilkinson (a white man), "traveled with the team and looked after the best interests of his players providing the best travel accommodations available and compensating the players generously."

Sol White -- A player and manager in two different centuries, White played minor league baseball with white teams then organized the Philadelphia Giants in 1902. The team won four consecutive eastern championships as a manager and the team's shortstop. Davis describes him as: "An intense player when in action on the diamond, he otherwise demonstrated a calm disposition that served him well as a manager." He later became a newspaper columnist.

Ray Brown -- Due to the barnstorming nature of black baseball, it's difficult to compare players' stats to those of today, or even their peers' numbers. But Brown is considered one of the Negro Leagues' greatest pitchers. He helped the Grays win nine straight Negro National League titles from 1937-1945. Davis describes his repertoire of pitches as a sinker, a slider and a fine fastball, "but his curveball was his best pitch. So confident was Ray in all of his pitches that he would throw a curve with a 3-0 count on the batter."

Willard Brown -- Nicknamed "Home Run," Brown holds several home run records in Puerto Rican winter ball in addition to his performance in the Negro Leagues. He hit between .336 and .371 during five seasons from 1937 to 1942 (he skipped 1940 to play in Mexico), and the Monarchs won the Negro American League pennant each year. James compares him to the likes of Frank Robinson and Andre Dawson.

Andy Cooper -- A left-handed pitcher with the Detroit Stars and then the Monarchs, Cooper was "a smart pitcher who was a master at mixing pitches and changing speeds," says Davis. He was 113-46 over nine seasons from 1922 to 1930. He later became a manager and led the Monarchs to four Negro American League pennants.

Biz Mackey -- The finest defensive catcher in the Negro Leagues, according to James, Mackey struck fear in opponents with his arm and his bat. Davis says, "He could snap a throw to second from a squatting position ... and his pegs to the keystone sack were frozen ropes passing the mound belt high and arriving on the bag feather soft." He hit .423 in 1923 for the Hilldale Daisies, and then hit no worse than .315 over the eight succeeding years.

Mule Suttles -- One of the Negro Leagues' great power hitters, he swung a 50-ounce bat, says Davis. And it produced massive home runs, as well as a .329 batting average over his career, primarily with the St. Louis Stars and Newark Eagles. His best year was 1926, when he hit 26 homers and batted .432 with a 1.000 slugging percentage. His greatest shot? Well, it's all second-hand information, but teammates recalled a shot in Havana that cleared a 60-foot wall located more than 500 feet from home plate -- with plenty to spare.

Cristobal Torriente -- A left-handed hitting Cuban center fielder with a strong arm, James says Torriente was good enough to force all-time great Oscar Charleston to shift to left field when they were teammates briefly. He hit as high as .412 in the Negro Leagues as "a notorious bad ball hitter; any pitch that left the pitcher's hand was likely to end up against the outfield wall," says Davis. In a Cuban exhibition series, he outhit and outhomered Babe Ruth, who was barnstorming with the New York Giants.

Jud Wilson -- James compares Wilson to Hack Wilson or Kirby Puckett -- "Short but powerful. Huge, huge shoulders, arms like a gorilla, big, bear-trap hands, but a small waist, short but powerful lower body." Satchel Paige considered him one of the two best hitters ever in black baseball. From 1923 to 1937, he hit no worse than .315 and as high as .395. Wilson played from 1922 to 1945, known for a competitive streak that occasionally turned into a fierce temper. Primarily a third baseman, Wilson adopted a fielding style in which he would play the ball off his chest before recovering and throwing to first.

Frank Grant -- Born in the year the Civil War ended, Grant was given the name Ulysses but called Frank from an early age. Most of his career came in the 19th century, where he was called "the black Dunlap," as a favorable comparison to Fred Dunlap, a great second baseman in white baseball. Grant played for a barnstorming team called the Big Gorhams of New York in 1891, leading them to an incredible 100-4 record. Davis says Grant suffered extreme racial prejudice, at one point wearing wooden shinguards for protection from runners seeking to spike him, and "on occasion he was moved to the outfield for his own protection."

Pete Hill -- A contemporary of Ty Cobb, while Cobb was hitting .420 for the Detroit Tigers in 1911, Hill hit safely in 115 of 116 games that year for the Chicago American Giants. He was a left-handed hitter who rarely struck out and used the whole field, a la Wade Boggs. Hill was also a great center fielder and the most disruptive baserunner of his time, says Davis: "He was a nervy base runner who upset pitchers and infielders like Jackie Robinson was to do a quarter decade later."

Jose Mendez -- A right-handed pitcher from Cuba, Mendez began playing organized baseball at age 16. His greatest work came with the Cuban Stars, going 44-2 in 1909 and 18-2 the next year. Davis says, "Mendez had long arms and exceptionally long fingers, enabling him to get more spin on a ball. ... the graceful hurler threw with a deceptively easy motion that created havoc with batters' timing." (Think Mariano Rivera with more velocity.) At age 33, he became manager of the Monarchs, played shortstop and pitched occasionally, compiling a 20-4 record over seven seasons.

Louis Santop -- James ranks Santop as the second-best catcher in Negro Leagues history after Josh Gibson (Mackey is third). His 240-pound build made him one of the best at blocking the plate, and he had a great arm (Davis says he could stand at home plate and throw the ball over the center field fence.) He batted over .400 for four consecutive seasons from 1911 to 1914 and was considered the first great power hitter in the Negro Leagues.

Ben Taylor -- Taylor was a double-threat, a first baseman and pitcher who excelled at both as well as at the plate. He hit .334 lifetime, had a 30-1 record against all competition in 1911, and as a lefty, displayed the smooth fielding at first base that would bring Keith Hernandez or Mark Grace to mind. Davis says, "He was good on ground balls and could make all the plays at first, making the other infielders look good by digging out low throws and making difficult plays with such ease that they appeard routine."

For more information on these deserving players and executives, as well as those who were on the ballot but failed to gain election, check out the profiles on the Hall of Fame site.


Two for the Money

Connecticut won its rematch with Villanova on Sunday, 89-75, avenging its loss to the Wildcats 13 days earlier. The top two teams in the Big East each won their matchup at home, and they have the look of teams that could meet again in the Big East Tournament and then perhaps again with much more at stake in early April.

The Huskies and Wildcats play their games differently, but their contrasting styles are reminiscent of another pair of conference rivals -- North Carolina and Duke -- last year. UConn, like UNC last year, has magnificent athleticism, size and depth. As star players with size have opted in recent years to jump to the pros quickly, it's rare that a team can have a front line as athletic as the Huskies' Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone and Rudy Gay. Charlie Villanueva, a first-round NBA pick having a strong rookie year, would have to fight for minutes with this bunch.

Villanova, like Duke last year (and this year), isn't as deep or as tall, but they shoot the ball well from the outside and they use their lack of size as an advantage to play pressure defense on the ball. It's virtually unthinkable to try to win with a four-guard offense, but Villanova has four as good as Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Mike Nardi and Kyle Lowry, and they've pulled it off beautifully. Ask the Tar Heels, which escaped the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 last year only with the help of a shaky traveling call on Ray in the final seconds. There's no shame in losing to West Virginia and on the road at Texas and UConn, 'Nova's only three losses this year.

Where does the smart money lie? Well, remember that UNC won the NCAA Championship last year, while Duke lost to a more physical and deeper Michigan State team in the Sweet 16. It's possible to see the same thing happen again in a tournament that is more about matchups than pure talent. UConn is the safer bet in your brackets, but don't count out Villanova, whose guts and willingness to sell out on defense are reminiscent of the Wildcats' 1985 national championship team. That team, if you might remember, cut its teeth in the wars of the Big East -- the nation's best conference then and once again.


Friday, February 24, 2006

A Mohr-atorium, please

Somewhere between his performance as an arrogant sports agent in Jerry Maguire and his performance as an arrogant sports agent in a Diet Pepsi commercial (this guy has range!), Sports Illustrated saw fit to give Jay Mohr a column called "Mohr Sports" on its Web site.

Mohr had a short-lived talk show (also called "Mohr Sports") on ESPN, and he's been on Jim Rome's radio and TV shows a number of times. In those endeavors, he showed that his greatest contribution is playing a smart-alecky know-it-all type who probably knows a lot more about sports than he lets on, because he'd prefer to talk smack.

Now he's evidently being paid to reprise that role in writing. Mohr, who once provided the voice of Christopher Walken on an episode of The Simpsons, has now won the role of Skip Bayless in print.

Among his column titles this year are "I couldn't care less about the Olympics" and "I'm ticked off the Chiefs hired Herm before calling me." Also, witness his most recent effort, "NBA All-Star Game and 'events' have become a joke":

Was the NBA All-Star Game on this year? I must have missed it. Maybe it was
because there was just too much great television to watch instead of the NBA's
mid-winter classic. Like reruns of 30 Minute Meals with Rachael
Ray on theFood Network or that show on Telemundo where the guy dresses
up in a bumblebee costume.

For years the NBA All-Star Game has been completely irrelevant.
Long ago, fans began tuning out the league's best players playing bad
basketball. For too long the stars have embraced an all-offense and no-defense
approach, and this is one of the many reasons it has become

If you disagree with me, then explain why the All-Star Game was shown
on TNT, sandwiched between Steven Seagal movies. It's because it stinks. The
"events" that lead up to the game stink too. The slam dunk contest is a
perennial snore. Even when it is won by New York Knicks rookie Nate Robinson,
who at 5-foot-9 is barely tall enough to ride the log flume at your
local amusement park.

The column is deliciously ironic. Because given the life span of "Mohr Sports," it was obvious that more people preferred The Food Network and Telemundo to that program as well. Irrelevant, unwatchable and perennial snore would probably be an apt description of much of Mohr's work as well.

Oh, and the shot he takes at Nate Robinson about being barely tall enough to ride the log flume at an amusement park? Mohr is 5-foot-7 1/2.


Red, white and boooooooo!

By the headline, you might think I'm writing about the Shani Davis-Chad Hedrick, made-for-TV Olympic saga, but that's not the case. I'm writing about the biggest fiasco to hit Major League Baseball since the All-Star Game tie in 2002.

It's the World Baseball Classic, featuring some of the biggest stars the game has ever seen. Well, maybe by the time it gets underway next week, it won't, but for now, we still have Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez.

But the numbers are going down, fast. Barry Bonds was one of the first to back out, though for defensible reasons. He's coming off knee surgery and needs to devote himself to the Giants in what might be his final season. Hideki Matsui is skipping it for Japan. Dominicans Manny Ramirez (out for the Classic) and Pedro Martinez (skipping the first round) are on the out or uncertain list. Gold Glove center fielder Vernon Wells is injured and might have to back out. Texas Rangers stars Francisco Cordero and David Dellucci have opted not to participate. And you have to believe the list will get bigger as teams gather at Spring Training and evaluate their status.

Remember, this was Bud Selig's plan to promote baseball on a worldwide level. Bring together the best players from around the world, have them represent their countries, or in the case of some, the countries of their ancestors. Have a round-robin format that leads to a championship game and the nationalism will just flow from there.

Well, the concept was good, but as with many things Selig has done, there have been a few flaws in the execution.

First of all, the timing made 30 major league managers cringe. The last thing one of them needs is to have an ace pitcher blow out an elbow or a star hitter pull a hamstring while playing in an exhibition. Second, the tournament is exhausting the better part of Spring Training. Seventeen days on the road, away from the team, has to do wonders for chemistry. Third, baseball isn't on the minds of most sports fans during March, because there's something called the NCAA Basketball Tournament to occupy them.

A better idea would have been to conduct the tournament after the season. Yes, some players might opt out to rest their bodies after 162 games, but it would be more likely Selig would have had the support of the teams. Influential owners such as George Steinbrenner and John Henry have been among the most vocal critics of the Classic. In reality, some teams will show up playing to win; others will show up playing not to get hurt. That doesn't inspire great baseball.

Or, Selig could have thought outside the box, which most would admit isn't his greatest strength. Instead of a three-day All-Star break, have a weeklong break and play a shortened version of the tournament during that period. Instead of 16 teams, have four playing a single-elimination tournament.

The Caribbean could have one team, Central and South America (including Mexico) a second team, the U.S. and Canada a third and the rest of the world a fourth. One semifinal game on Tuesday, another semifinal on Wednesday and the championship on Friday night. No other major sports would be competing for those time slots, so baseball would be on the stage for the world to see. You might not get the nationalism that comes with representing home countries, but you would see quality baseball and most likely you'd have the best players in the world on display.

Just make sure there aren't any tie games.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Book Review: Bob Knight - The Unauthorized Biography

Bob Knight is one of those people you're either for or against.

I've always been a supporter of him, for the pure reason that he is who he is, and everyone knows that going in -- players, writers and, most of all, universities. You know you'll get a coach who will recruit his student-athletes cleanly, prepare them thoroughly and graduate them continuously.

In an era when college sports have become an extension of their professional counterparts, particularly basketball, Knight inspires thoughts of the college game we all grew up loving. His teams have always been built on tenacious defense and judicious offense, with a heavy dose of the team concept.

There's just this little thing about his temper ...

Someone as mercurial as Knight is fodder for book material, whether it be John Feinstein's career-making "A Season on the Brink," Joan Mellen's counterbalancing "Bob Knight: His Own Man," Steve Alford's memoir "Playing for Knight," or Knight's own autobiography. All of them tell the tales of the coach's roller-coaster life in their own way. The latest effort comes from Steve Delsohn of ESPN and Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times, who provide a quick and fairly balanced portrait of Knight from his days as a boy in Orrville, Ohio, to his most recent season at Texas Tech. The more than 150 interviewees include a diverse collection from Knight friends and loyalists (Isiah Thomas, Knight mentor Pete Newell, columnist and friend Dave Kindred) to those who probably aren't on his Christmas-card list (IU transfers Ricky Calloway, Delray Brooks and Larry Bird, CNN/SI producer Robert Abbott, NCAA tournament official Rance Pugmire)

Where they add to the genre is in their reporting on Knight's fall from grace and dismissal from Indiana. Of the books listed above, only Knight's own book has come out since he left Bloomington, and it includes only one voice -- Knight's own.

But Delsohn and Heisler use two key IU figures, athletic director Clarence Doninger and university vice president Christopher Simpson, to fill in some of the lines Knight left uncolored. Doninger was once friends with Knight but probably took more abuse from him in Knight's final years than anyone at Indiana. Simpson was close to Knight -- they went fishing together during the summer before Knight was fired -- but, as with anyone who crosses the coach, he's certainly on the outside looking in now. Neither man appears to have an axe to grind, but more of a desire to tell their side, which is balanced by some of Knight's confidants and excerpts from the more sympathetic portraits of him since he left the Hoosiers.

Knight makes clear in his own book that he wishes he had resigned from Indiana rather than agreeing to the zero tolerance policy after the CNN/SI story that produced the damning Neil Reed videotape. This book seems to concur with Knight's thinking, given that the policy really left no room for interpretation. Someone of Knight's stature and disposition was going to violate it one way or another, especially if he was baited, as it seemed he was by student Kent Harvey in the Assembly Hall lobby.

Knight is a proud and competitive man. It is those two traits that have led him to the cusp of Dean Smith's record for coaching victories, to three national titles and an Olympic gold medal (the chapter that chronicles the selection of the 1984 team is also well-reported). It is also those two traits that have morphed into vices. The pride becomes defiance. The competitiveness, especially with himself, becomes the fuel for outrage and the motivation to justify any means to an end.

Defiance and the fuel to take decisive action -- the continuum of historical figures to display those traits runs the moral gamut, from Martin Luther King to Attila the Hun. Where is Knight on that continuum? Not close to either, though he has loyalists and detractors who have probably put him in the same conversations as both.

Knight has fulfilled the mission of those who employed him -- at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech, he has won basketball games, graduated students and produced successful men off the court. The price has been high, especially to himself but also to those who have been caught in the crosshairs of his outbursts. We'd all like it if someone so successful could also make us feel good inside.

But as this book echoes the others written about Knight, that hope runs counter to two things: 1) That's just not who Knight is personally; and 2) That's not how he sees his role as a teacher and leader of men. Which brings me back to the original point: People know that going in. They must either accept it or find another man to follow.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Barry Bonds' victory lap

Barry Bonds will play his final major league season this year, he told USA TODAY this weekend. He says his pursuit of the all-time home run record won't enter into the equation -- that he'll retire whether or not he hits the 48 homers needed to pass Hank Aaron's total of 755.

If you read the article, you'll see the classic Bonds grousing on display. The man airs more grievances than Frank Costanza at Festivus. This time it's the fact that the game isn't fun anymore and that he's apparently taking handfuls of pain pills and sleeping pills to get through his days and nights. (Anyone who doesn't see the irony in that last admission isn't trying hard enough.)

In any case, though Bonds won't win any awards for congeniality, he has won just about everything else that baseball offers a hitter. He has won seven Most Valuable Player awards, four more than anyone else in league history and more than any athlete in one of the four major sports except for Wayne Gretzky (nine).

He's led the league in batting twice, home runs twice and RBIs once. He has eight Gold Gloves and 13 All-Star Game appearances, and he's sure to increase that last number if he's healthy this year. He has turned the chic new stat of OBP (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) into his own personal trademark, blending his power with a patience and batting eye that only look better when opposing pitchers are afraid to throw him a strike. Bonds broke the major league record for walks in 2001 (177), then broke it again the next year (198), then shattered it once more in 2004 (232).

Last year he missed all but 14 games due to knee ailments, but his five homers in those games showed he still can hit a baseball a long way. Despite the fact that he's only hit 48 homers or more in a season twice, if healthy he's at least a 50-50 shot to break Aaron's record.

Many baseball fans won't be rooting for Bonds, for two big reasons: One is the aforementioned petulance he displays so often in public, and the other, more ominous reason is the veil of suspicion that Bonds' performance this decade has been helped by steroids. A slender, elegant player in his 20s, Bonds has added bulk in his later years that have driven up his power numbers significantly. Yet aside from a grand jury admission that he received two substances believed to be "the cream" and "the clear," he's in a legal sense free of guilt.

The more homers Bonds hits this year, the more time will be spent on the morality of him breaking the most hallowed record in sports. (Ironically, it was for altogether different and far more sinister reasons that many baseball fans were rooting against Aaron to break Babe Ruth's
record in 1974).

And if Bonds' chase turns into a discussion of his merits, it will be a shame. Because Bonds is one of the best players ever to pick up a bat and glove and play in the major leagues. Like his father, Bobby, Barry Bonds had a rare combination of power and speed long before suspicions of steroids ever entered into the discourse of the sport. He lifted the Pittsburgh Pirates to three straight division titles in the early 90s, then went to San Francisco in 1993 and had one of the greatest seasons ever (.336-46 HR-123 RBI-29 steals-126 walks) for a team that lost the division by one game. Save last season, he has hit fewer than 24 homers only twice. He has stolen 28 bases or more 12 times. His defense in left field was outstanding for many years.

Had he stopped playing in 2000, the year before he hit 73 homers, he would still have retired with more than 400 homers, nearly 500 steals, a career average around .280, three MVP awards and all those Gold Gloves. He would have been Hall of Fame material, and no one would care about the results of his drug tests.

The four seasons between 2001 and 2004 lofted him into the category of Ruth, Mays, Aaron and Ted Williams, and have at times made his critics want to put him into a group with Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, counting those who have stained the game. We can't have it both ways. The magnificent numbers of those four years will always be given an asterisk in the minds of many.

Which is also why, again, it would be a shame to see his final season be about Barry's pharmaceutical history and not his baseball legacy. We have no doubt seen one of the game's singular talents over the past 20 seasons. We'll have five years to weigh his character against his numbers, and to question or drudge up new evidence of how valid those numbers might be, as voters prepare to cast their Hall of Fame ballots.

For 2006, let's just enjoy him for who he is -- an all-time baseball great. And if Aaron's record falls, let's at least treat Bonds with more dignity than Aaron received when he passed the Babe.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mike Davis' burden

Indiana coach Mike Davis stepped down today, effective at the end of the season, but his days at Indiana were numbered the day he took the job. His only mistake was that he followed a legend like Bob Knight. But Knight wasn't just any legend; he was a lightning rod that inspired strong emotions in anyone who dealt with him. Nearly six years after his firing, lots of Hoosiers still can't let him go.

Never mind that it was Davis' recruiting that helped make Knight's last years more productive. Never mind that he got the Hoosiers to the Final Four in 2002, meaning he's been to the same number of Final Fours in this decade as Lute Olson, Rick Pitino, or Jim Calhoun. Davis had to measure up to the same yardstick that Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty did at North Carolina, or a host of coaches since John Wooden did at UCLA, or whoever has to succeed Mike Krzyzewski at Duke will have to do.

You just can't meet the expectations of a fan base for whom second place means the first loser. Beyond that, Knight won in a singular way, inspiring undying loyalty from many and venomous hatred from others. In either case, Davis couldn't match Knight's mercurial personality nor shake himself from the long shadow of his predecessor. Give him all the credit in the world for hanging on as long as he did.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Should we even care about the Olympics?

I'm sitting at my computer, which is in a different room of the house from any of my televisions. So by definition, I must not be paying any attention to the Olympics. I used to look forward to these every four years, and even into the stretch when they became essentially every two years. But I haven't watched a minute of it yet, and I can't say I plan to give it more than a cursory glance. Why? Here are five reasons:

Commercials -- To me, the moment the Olympic broadcasts "jumped the shark" came in 1988, when the United States was playing hockey (against whom, I can't remember) and because of television commercials, viewers missed at least two goals by the Stars and Stripes. At one point, Jim McKay came on and "educated" viewers that while the Olympics were important, it was also important that ABC pay homage to the advertisers whose money were paying for the cost of broadcasting the games. One of the network suits must have put McKay up to it, since there was no way that the voice of the Olympics would have gone there on his own. But ever since then, I've been reminded of how much broadcast rights to the Games cost, and how we'll always be a slave to the companies who fund it.

24-Hour News -- And since the Games are too plodding to watch, why not just cut to the chase? Thanks to the Internet and 24-hour news channels, one need not wait until prime time to find out who won the medals -- at least when the Olympics are being held outside the U.S. time zones. At noon on Saturday, I knew that Chad Hedrick had captured the first U.S. gold medal. Which was great because we had lots of errands to run that day, so there was no point in hurrying home to watch Hedrick's 5,000-meter performance on tape. And with TiVo, you can wait even longer to watch the events, whenever it's convenient. The suspense of watching an event live is gone. For that matter, the suspense of watching an event on tape is gone -- the U.S. beat the Russians in 1980, in a game that was shown tape-delayed, but outside of the folks in Lake Placid and maybe some others who had heard by phone, no one knew that had pulled the greatest upset in hockey history.

Doping -- The other "jump the shark" moment also came in 1988, when Ben Johnson won the 100-meter gold medal with an implausible 9.79-second time. Implausible, and it turned out, invalid as well. Johnson wasn't the first or the last Olympian to use illegal drugs or other internationally banned substances. But like Nixon in Watergate, he was the first on his level to get caught, and we've developed a natural suspicion of great athletes when they turn in incredible performances. Baseball has gone through the same scrutiny in recent years, especially because it hasn't until recently developed a drug-testing policy nearly as strict as that of the Olympics. But baseball has the advantage of being a thinking person's sport as well -- a crafty player can play as important a role as a physically gifted one. Many of the Olympics' sports are decided on pure power or speed, variables that performance-enhancing substances are bound to improve. In such cases, the drug test might be the toughest opponent an athlete faces.

Politics -- The majority of my Olympic watching has occurred since 1980, when President Carter led a boycott of the Moscow Games (the Eastern Bloc countries reciprocated four years later). While the Olympics should be above politics, they still have lost a bit of their character as the political situations in the world have changed. Go back to the 1980 hockey victory -- what made it special? Well, the whole amateur thing was one huge factor and will be covered in the next item. But the team gave the United States a shot of morale that if it could avoid being bullied on the ice, maybe it could avoid the same fate in the world as well. Now times have changed, and the United States is the most powerful nation (for better or worse; mostly better in my opinion) and doesn't have that lovable underdog story it once did. Of course we should win the most medals -- we have exceptional training facilities, sports medicine technology, sponsorship opportunities, and so much more. Good for us, but bad for the allure of the Games.

Professionalism -- This is the most obvious change. Mike Eruzione won a gold medal in the last hockey game he ever played for keeps. The Olympics made him a star. Too many Olympic athletes these days are already stars when they get to the Games. The "Dream Team" was a great concept, since the best basketball players in the country bought into it and made it what was supposed to be: a once-in-a-lifetime event. But since professionals were allowed to play the major team sports, a group with that degree of grace, likability and talent hasn't been seen again in Olympic basketball or in hockey (maybe Team Canada in 2002). Tennis is just another Olympic sport that some professionals attend and others don't, and if anything takes away from the lure of the Grand Slam events every four years. Beyond that, the likes of Bode Miller and Michelle Kwan clean up on endorsements. Why is it that the biggest story of the Games so far has been that of an athlete -- Kwan -- who WON'T compete? Because she's the star we all know. It would be nice if we could learn about some of the other folks, whose stories we haven't heard again and again.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Bizarre basketball box score of the week

Credit to Pat Forde at ESPN for catching this one. Division III produces some wild games, but how about this one for craziness?
  • Beloit beats Grinnell 120-112, in regulation (not overtime)
  • Beloit wins despite not attempting a single 3-point shot; Grinnell shot 60 of them
  • Beloit took 27 fewer shots (93-66) but made more field goals (45-40)
  • Beloit's 6-foot-6 senior Josh Hinz outrebounded Grinnell by himself (36-27). Hinz tied the NCAA Division III record with his rebounding performance and scored 50 points.

Here's the box score:



Thursday, February 09, 2006

Broadcaster traded for rabbit

You Can't Make This Up Department: In the AP story on Al Michaels' official move to NBC, it's mentioned that The Walt Disney Co. will receive the rights to silent cartoon character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as part of its compensation for letting Michaels out of his contract.

My thoughts on the new MNF crew.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Monday Night Fiasco

One of my close friends has held out without cable television for many years, but told me that when ESPN acquired Monday Night Football he would need to reconsider. He might now want to re-reconsider.

Today the network announced its new Monday night team. Mike Tirico will call play-by-play and be joined in the booth by Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser. This after Al Michaels reportedly is set to leave the Disney television family to join NBC and former MNF partner John Madden on Sunday nights. This ensures that ESPN's coverage of the NFL will continue to be unwatchable.

Now obviously ESPN has to have egg on its face for calling in what essentially is its B-team. But the network had a perfect out. Just reunite the Sunday Night Football group that has worked together for several years. Don't get me wrong -- Mike Patrick, Paul Maguire and Joe Theismann were the most annoying trio since the Bee Gees. A typical exchange between them often went like this:

Patrick: "First and 10, Green Bay. Here's Favre. Favre! Look at him! Avoids the rush! And he runs for a ONE YARD GAIN!!!!!! What an effort!"
Theismann: "Favre is tough! Did you see him take that hit by the lineman, whatever his name is? He took that hit like a man!"
Maguire: "Let me tell you about Brett Favre. This guy can play. He's 0-for-20 with five interceptions tonight, but that doesn't speak to the fact that he's a great quarterback!"
Theismann: "Not a great quarterback, Paul. The greatest quarterback who ever lived!"
Maguire: "He's everything that's right about this game! I think there was a flag on that play, but never mind. We haven't talked enough about Favre tonight."
Patrick: "Here comes Green Bay again, down 55-0 with 35 seconds left in the game. Favre takes them to the line. With him in there, this game is far from over!"

But at least that group had chemistry, if I can use that word loosely. Now we have Tirico, who like Patrick has a proclivity for overreacting to every play, calling the action. Theismann will continue to talk about a variety of subjects, some of which make sense. And Kornheiser, a knowledgeable sports guy but a hire that reeks of the Dennis Miller decision, will try to add his humor to the mix. It will be three guys screaming over each other, like a sports version of The McLaughlin Group.

Here's another thing: Did ESPN really believe Michaels would want to work with Theismann in the first place? Michaels is pickier than 5-year-old with a plate of vegetables, and Theismann never seemed like a match for a guy who has been working with the dean of football analysts. This partnership was doomed from the start, and ESPN should have seen it coming.

On the flip side, Mike Breen, who will take Michaels' place as lead NBA play-by-play man, is a solid, polished veteran who should mesh well with Hubie Brown, one of my favorite sports analysts. (I love to hear him talk about the Pistons' strength at "the forward position.") My only question is: Can they do NFL, too?


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Wednesday Morning Argument Starter

One of the most enjoyable things about writing a blog is seeing people's comments. Whether you agree with me, or you want to tell me I don't know what I'm talking about, this is your forum as much as it is mine. In an effort to feed this beast, I'm introducing the Wednesday Morning Argument Starter. It's Wednesday morning, the week is starting to drag, and you need a few minutes to take your mind off work. Come to my site, where I'll post my top five list of some topic, and feel free to take your shots at me.

Since this is Rivalry Week in college basketball, I thought I'd give my selections for the top five college basketball rivalries RIGHT NOW.

5. WisconsinMarquette: Besides being a geographic rivalry, in which the teams generally fight for the best players in the Badger State, the coaches seem to genuinely hate one another. Bo Ryan never refers to Tom Crean by name and attempts to lure recruits by telling them that Crean soon will be moving on to a more high-profile job. He’s now in his seventh season, and didn’t have to leave Marquette to get his high-profile job. The Golden Eagles are now in the Big East and Crean has taken them to a Final Four in 2003. Meanwhile, Ryan has the Badgers near the top of the Big Ten every year, and Wisconsin is one of the country’s surest things at home (except against North Dakota State). He’s made the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons there and nearly engineered an upset of North Carolina last year. With both teams consistently near the Top 25, this game takes on new meaning.

4. Cincinnati
– Xavier: Cincinnati and Louisvilleare often closely associated as a conference rivalry, but this is the battle for the city. Dubbed the Crosstown Shootout, it has a local chili company as a sponsor and has become an integral part of the city of Cincinnati's fabric. The Musketeers always seem to play their best when the Bearcats are among the nation’s elite. In 1996, Cincy came in ranked No. 1, and lost by two points. In 1999, the Bearcats came in again at the top of the polls, and lost again – by two points. Maybe their best game was in 2004, when Xavier won 71-69 and used the victory as fire to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament (beating previously undefeated St. Joe’s along the way) and march to the NCAA’s Elite Eight. The Musketeers won another nail-biter, 73-71 this year. With Cincinnati’s off-court troubles in recent years, this has become the basketball equivalent of Catholics vs. Convicts.

3. Arizona
Washington: The two locations couldn’t be more diverse. Arizona sits in the sun-drenched desert of Tucson, Washington in the drizzly lakefront of Seattle. Tucson is golf and Bingo, Seattle is rock music and extreme sports. Even the coaches, Lute Olson and Lorenzo Romar, represent the old-school/new-school contrast of their communities. But both coaches love up-tempo basketball, and these two teams have put on some of the best shows in the Pac 10 in recent years. In this year’s 96-95 double overtime road win by Arizona, the Wildcats rallied from 13 down in the first half, then the Huskies came back from a seven-point deficit in the final minute of regulation. In the conference final last year, Washington scored the game’s final 11 points to win 81-72. The Huskies, at 8-10, took the No. 2 ‘Cats to overtime in 2003 before losing at home, then got revenge by sweeping all three games the next season. This series can only get better and has the advantage of occurring twice a year.

2. Kentucky
Louisville: Both teams are struggling this year, but history has to be considered in a state that treats basketball as religion. Rick Pitino’s tenure at Kentucky, in which he resurrected a chastened program, made him a deity in the state, but among Wildcats fans he’s now the great Satan. His successor in Lexington, Tubby Smith, took the team to an NCAA title in his first season, but has struggled to live up to his initial success before the sport’s most demanding fans. Still, he can claim a victory over the Cardinals this year, which in that state is enough to salvage a season. This is a rivalry that dates back to the 1950s, during a time when Louisville bucked Southern traditions by recruiting African-American players while Kentucky stayed all-white. The teams didn’t play for 24 years, but fate put them in the same bracket of the NCAAs in 1983, and they met in a regional final, which the Cardinals won in overtime. Like long-lost souls destined to find each other once again, UK and UL met the next season and have played every year since.

1. Duke –
North Carolina: Always and forever. What would it take for this game to not be the biggest rivalry in college basketball? Well, maybe of one of the schools getting the death penalty. A new book title on the rivalry says it all: "To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever." The Duke-UNC games always mean more than any other, and they now have regained the star power to boot. Mike Krzyzewski collects high school All-Americans like Enron collected paper shredders. And Roy Williams has restored the luster to UNC’s vaunted program, winning a national championship last year and keeping his team in the Top 25 this year despite losing its top seven players. He's got another blue-chip class coming in next season. Every basketball high schooler in America dreams of being courted by one of these two schools, the best ones are, and as long as that continues, so will Duke-UNC. Let me know what you think.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Five Storylines from Super Sunday

5) Bradshaw and Montana are no-shows. In a side event that was arguably better than much of the game, quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana did not attend the ceremony celebrating former Super Bowl MVPs. The two combined for five MVP awards and led two of the sport's great dynasties, making them notable absences in an otherwise classy parade. Many of football's greats attended the event, as did some men who stepped up on the sport's biggest stage. But Bradshaw said he wanted to spend time with his family (a weak alibi for a guy who participated in events all week and has had a love-hate relationship with Pittsburgh). And Montana, it's being reported, wasn't guaranteed enough money to appear, which if true, deeply tarnishes the Super Bowl's greatest star.

4) Questionable officiating. So concludes the worst-officiated postseason I can remember. It would be overstating it to say the Steelers won because of the officials, but the tentative calls by the crew followed a trend that ran throughout the entire playoffs. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Instant replay, despite the merits of being able to review plays from multiple angles in slow motion, has led to the unintended consequence of taking the game out of the officials' hands. It has undermined their confidence in calling a game.

3) Quarterbacks falling to earth. Both Matt Hasselbeck and Ben Roethlisberger were shaky, after performing very well throughout the postseason. Roethlisberger looked like the rookie who hijacked the Steelers' playoff run last year. Hasselbeck started well but didn't adjust when the Steelers backed off their blitz in the second half. Give credit to Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who dared the Seahawks to put long drives together by reducing his pass rushers and dropping eight men into coverage. They couldn't do it. In fact, save the gift pick by Roethlisberger, Seattle might not have scored a touchdown all game.

2) One for the thumb. Pittsburgh joins San Francisco and Dallas as the only franchises to win five Super Bowls. And while this one wasn't pretty, it was decidedly "Steeler football." It was oddly reminiscent of the Steelers' first Super Bowl win, in 1975. That team, built around defense and a running game as this one was, led 2-0 at halftime and slugged out a 16-6 victory over Minnesota. Ostensibly, it's easy to say that this Pittsburgh team was one of the weakest entries to ever win a Super Bowl, but with many young stars in Roethlisberger, Willie Parker, Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu, it might (MIGHT) be on the verge of greatness as well. Winning multiple Super Bowls is more difficult in this era than it was in the late 1970s, which makes the Patriots' recent success so impressive, but this team can't be judged on one game or even one great playoff run. Time will tell if this Pittsburgh team was a one-year wonder or a truly great team.

1) Hines Ward shines. Ward has always been a favorite of Steeler Nation for his toughness, talent and winning attitude. In a game in which many of the Steelers' stars had subpar games, Ward stepped up as he has all year. And over the past two seasons, Ward has caught touchdowns in five of the six Steelers playoff games. Think about it: Roethlisberger was off target all game and had his longest pass "completion" returned 76 yards the other way. Troy Polamalu didn't make many plays. Joey Porter had three tackles and no sacks. Willie Parker had only 18 yards on nine carries aside from his long touchdown run. Jerome Bettis had only one run over 10 yards. But there was Ward, doing what he's always done for the Steelers. But outside of Pittsburgh, most people haven't noticed. Think the Steelers signed the right wide receiver this past year?

Congratulations, Steelers and their fans (from one of your own)!


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Super Bowl Prediction

If you look at off-the-field warning signs, everything is pointing toward a Seattle victory.

Pittsburgh, which has gotten by as an underdog in its past two games, is now a favorite. Bill Cowher, who has been refreshingly low-key during the team’s three-game winning streak, is showing signs of the overcoaching that has doomed the team in the past. He’s gone with white jerseys as the home team (remember that he went with black jerseys in Super Bowl XXX as the home team, and that game wasn’t in Pittsburgh either) and has been protective of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

And linebacker Joey Porter, who kept relatively quiet on Media Day, has gone off the deep end since Seattle’s Jerramy Stevens essentially said the Seahawks would win by declaring that Jerome Bettis would leave Ford Field without a trophy.

So does Pittsburgh, which has played incredibly loose for a Cowher-led team, come out tight? Don’t bet on it. The Steelers realize how privileged they are to be in the Super Bowl. Roethlisberger is playing the best football of his career. And Porter is one of those athletes whose mouthing off seems to motivate himself more than the opposition. Every good defense needs one player who seems at least a little crazy. So Pittsburgh will be ready.

The matchups favor a high-scoring game. Pittsburgh will face an undersized Seattle defense that has great speed but could be handled by the Steelers’ powerful offensive line. Likewise, Seattle’s offensive front and strong running game can neutralize the Pittsburgh blitz. And if Troy Polamalu's ankle injury limits his speed and movement, the Steelers defense can be had.

The stories this week have focused on Bettis, likely playing the last game of his career in (all together now) his hometown, but I say keep an eye on the other Pittsburgh running back, Willie Parker. If his linemen can give him the holes, Parker will show the speed that made him a 1,000-yard back, and that will open up the field for Roethlisberger.

While Pittsburgh has passed early to set up the run in their previous three games, I look for them to try to overpower Seattle early and keep Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander off the field with their running game. I also expect them to let off the blitz early to feel out the Seahawks’ running game, because the West Coast offense that Seattle runs was built during an era of 3-4 defenses who used rushing linebackers like the Steelers do.

It comes down to the fourth quarter, and the strength of the Steelers offense prevails in a close, terrific game. Steelers 27, Seahawks 24

The best story in college basketball

UConn and Duke will likely be the favorites when the NCAA basketball tournament kicks off in a little more than a month.

But it's unlikely there will be a more sentimental choice than West Virginia.

On Wednesday the governor of West Virginia called for the state's mines to halt operations until safety checks can be conducted on all. This after two more miners died in accidents, bringing the new year's total deaths in the state's mines to 16. It's already their worst year for mine fatalities in more than a decade.

Sports can't erase the pain of those who have lost their loved ones, but it can bring some positive presence to communities that need hope.

Nowhere needs it this year more than West Virginia, a state synonymous with coal production which is now developing a reputation for great college basketball. You might remember this team from a thrilling run in the tournament last year -- the double overtime upset of Wake Forest, the victory against Bob Knight and Texas Tech, then the heartbreaking overtime loss to Louisville, in which the Mountaineers ran out of gas and couldn't hang on to a 20-point lead.

This year West Virginia is ranked 11th and has already shown one of the greatest signs of tournament prowess -- the ability to win on the road. They have won at Oklahoma, Villanova and UCLA. They lead the nation's best conference, the Big East, at 7-0.

Last night, the Mountaineers improved to 16-4 overall with a one-point victory over Notre Dame. Following a three-game losing streak early in the season, West Virginia has won 14 of 15, the exception a loss to in-state rival Marshall last week.

The Mountaineers have the grit to match their state, led by the incomparable Kevin Pittsnogle, a native of Martinsburg, W.V., who might be the best outside shooting big man this side of Dirk Nowitzki. They have one of the nation's best starting fives and one of the most underrated coaches in John Beilein.

The Feb. 18 game with UConn in Morgantown will be the biggest regular-season game the school has played since the days of Jerry West.

There are dreams, and then there are dream scenarios that have a hope of coming true. We should all be rooting for this one.


San Francisco: The Cutting Edge of PR

San Francisco sets its own pace among American cities. That apparently includes public relations practices and behavior among its sports teams.

See here.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Thanks to those who read my article on Ben Roethlisberger over the past two days.

Much greater thanks to those who pointed out my errors. In describing the Raiders' and Giants' quarterback situations, I had my events in the wrong order and, thus, had my facts incorrect.

The Giants traded for Eli Manning and before signing Kurt Warner and before cutting Kerry Collins, though the latter was likely a foregone conclusion when Manning and Warner came on board.

When Oakland signed Collins, Rich Gannon was still the starter. In the third game of the season, Gannon went down with a neck injury and Collins became the starter. Again, likely to occur eventually but I still presented their quarterback situation at the time of the draft incorrectly.

Obviously there's no point in any of you coming to my blog if I'm not going to include the correct information. My apologies for the disservice, and I hope you return to the site soon.


Cow-Bias sweeps North Texas

Before I begin my Super Bowl analysis later today, I wanted to comment on the epidemic that is swarming us here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area: allegations of Cow-Bias.

Seems everyone here is counting the days until Troy Aikman and Rayfield Wright become the latest Cowboys to be snubbed by the Hall of Fame voters. Michael Irvin is also on the ballot but consensus is that his recent trouble with the law will keep him out more than any negative perceptions of his team.

An article Sunday in the Dallas Morning News discussed the phenomenon, quoting a number of the voters. Sure enough, a few admit that there is an anti-Cowboy contingent and others vehemently deny it.

I know personally of one voter who openly detests the Cowboys because of an infamous playoff game (that's all the hint I'm going to give you, but I'm sure many of you can figure it out), and he's almost always an automatic no vote. You only need seven to keep a player out of the Hall.

There is also this: The NFL's All-Decade team of the 1970s includes only four players who aren't in the Hall of Fame. One is kicker Garo Yepremian (at a position in which only one man -- Jan Stenerud -- has been enshrined). Another is punter Ray Guy, at a position where no one has been enshrined solely for punting. The other two are former Cowboys Drew Pearson at wide receiver and Cliff Harris at safety.

Aikman will be a litmus test. He has won more Super Bowls (three) than anyone except Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady. Along with Steve Young, he was the best quarterback of the 1990s, and Young played several seasons as a backup and only one won Super Bowl (though he had gaudier numbers in his best years) and waltzed into the Hall last year. He was a good leader and diplomatic with the press. If he doesn't get in, maybe there is something to this Cow-Bias.

Wright will be more difficult, because he represents a different era. He was a great blocker, and largely has been overlooked due to the fact that right tackles don't get the publicity that left tackles do. The momentum seems to favor the other senior candidate, John Madden, but Wright is a worthy candidate as well and has a chance to get in.

I detailed my choices last month, and I'm going to add Wright to the group of Aikman, Reggie White, Derrick Thomas and Harry Carson.

My prediction, however, is that White, Thurman Thomas and Madden join Aikman in the Class of 2006.


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