Sunday, May 31, 2009

Living in a Fantasy World

Don't have a sports team in your city?  Or maybe you simply get tired of watching teams on TV that have no personal connection to you.  I've got the remedy...give fantasy sports a shot.  I joined my first fantasy league during my freshman year of I believe it was.  I didn't quite know what to expect from it when I decided to participate, but I'm glad I joined the league.  You see, fantasy leagues do wonders for a waning interest in sports.

I'd like to think that I'm one of the biggest sports fans out there (hence the blog that I've started), but even my interest level in sports fluctuates sometimes.  Most of it can be attributed to the overloads of media coverage in areas that I don't hold a personal connection to.  For example, 5 years early season matchup on TV between the Padres and Marlins wasn't appealing to me. I'd just go to the next channel and hope that there was a good Adam Sandler movie on or something.

But bring fantasy sports into the mix and all of the sudden, that baseball game sounds like a great option.  Well what's different?  Perhaps I have Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla going for the Marlins that night and Adrian Gonzalez starting for the Padres.  Ok, so big it really that important? The baseball season runs all summer long.  Well yes it is....maybe that week I happen to be playing against one of my friends in the league who has an endless stream of shit-talk coming from his mouth about how good his team is.  You see, it's not just about bringing meaning to games that wouldn't normally peak your interest.  It's also about competing with friends, family, co-workers, etc.  Heck, you can even try to make some money from participating as many people choose to do.  

If you're a sports fanatic like myself, then I assume that you would welcome the prospect of having a personal connection to as many sporting events as you want.  That's what fantasy sports can do.  The fact that I can go through nearly all of the day's baseball games and have somebody to root for is awesome.  Or if you're more of a football person, wouldn't it be nice to always have someone to cheer for on Sunday regardless of what games Fox and CBS so wisely choose to show?  It's awesome, and in the process you can battle it out with your buddies for some serious bragging rights (and maybe some cash too). 

I understand that getting all charged up for fantasy sports may seem mildly ridiculous to the outsider.  However, if you're a passionate sports fan, fantasy leagues can bring your interest to a whole other level.  It brings meaning to otherwise mundane matchups, it allows you to compete with others harmlessly, and it gives you the opportunity to learn more than you'd ever imagine about some of your favorite sports/players.  So if you're looking to spice up your sports life, try to enter the fantasy world for a season.         

Thursday, May 28, 2009

You're Killing Me Alfonso!

The Cubs are in the midst of a brutal 2-9 stretch that has taken them from the top of the NL Central down to 4th place with just a .500 record.  Pretty much anything you can think of has gone wrong for the Cubbies during this period: we're talking injuries, slumps, flared tempers, impatience, and even broken Gatorade coolers (yes indeed...I mean how are the Cubs supposed to refresh themselves when the Gatorade machine is getting smacked with a baseball bat by an enraged Carlos Zambrano?).   When the pitching was lights out, the hitting was non-existent and finally when the bats came alive, the strong pitching faded.  Look...this stretch isn't the end of the world.  In fact, if the Cubs are destined to have a bad streak like this, they might as well get it done now as opposed to later.  But there are still a few things that need to change ASAP if the Cubs are to shake this slump.  

For me, it all starts with Alfonso Soriano.  Let's get real here.  When you're leadoff hitter is 4-of-32 in his last 8 games with 12 strikeouts...there is a lot left to be desired.  It's not just the lacking numbers either.  It's the way he does it, the effort he puts forth, and the situations in which he fails.  There have been several occasions where the bottom of the order has done a good job to get on base and Soriano will come up and wave at 3 breaking balls in the dirt to end the inning.  There is a lack of discipline and concentration emanating from Soriano's mindset and it's really starting to kill me.  It can be seen in the field, too.  If Soriano is hitting, its usually pretty easy to forget his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants fielding style.  He takes poor angles to get to fly balls, his arm isn't what it has been in the past, and he gives the fans a heart attack every time he hops in the air to grab routine fly balls.  

Now I understand that every player is going to go through stretches where they just don't get it done for one reason or another.  But as I said, the way Soriano does it is what gets me.  I wouldn't say that it looks like he doesn't care, but he seems to be playing without thinking how much his actions impact the team's success.   If I'm Lou Piniella, I may consider pulling the plug on Soriano's leadoff least for a bit.  As nice as the occasional leadoff HR is, I'm sick and tired of starting innings with 1 out.  A leadoff hitter needs a higher On Base Percentage, and certainly far better plate discipline.  Try a guy like Ryan Theriot, who puts the bat on the ball and works the count a little bit.  And who knows, Soriano could respond well to a different spot in the order.  

I'm not saying that Soriano isn't going to bounce back.  He's too good of a player not to.  But if we're paying him $136M over 8 years, I sure would like a little more consistency and a whole lot less wasted at-bats.  I don't like when big-name athletes play like they are entitled.  To me, the real stars in professional sports play everyday as if they need to prove something, and right now Alfonso Soriano is playing like he's won something.  Well...sorry 'Fonso, you haven't won a championship in Chicago and you definitely aren't winning my approval right now.  Let's just hope he realizes how important his effort, leadership, and god-given abilities are to this team before it's too late.             

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Racing on TV: B-O-R-I-N-G

Ok, so this will be blog #8 and I must say I'm surprised that it's taken this long for me to sound off on this topic. Those of you who read the title and are clinching your fists ready to punch me...I know who you are and you know who you are. Racing: NASCAR, Nationwide, IRL, F1, Craftsmen Truck, hell even that stupid Purdue go-kart race that they try to pawn off as rivaling the Little 500...I don't care. It's all VERY boring to watch.  

Let's start with the circular aspect of the sport.  We can go with oval too if you want to get technical.  The fact that the track is one big oval does not lend itself well to much variation.  Come down the straight away, hang a left, straighten it out a bit, hang another quick left, go straight, hang a left, and then after straightening a bit, hang another left again...Hey we've completed a lap, wasn't that fun?  No.  But at least us viewers can take solace in the fact that we've got a whole other 100, 200, or 300 laps to go...Ugghhh!  I've got to give it to Formula 1 racing a little bit here; at least their tracks are consistently curvier and more interesting than the typical oval track.  But still not exactly riveting.  My point is that watching cars do the same thing over and over again without much incident at all can put a viewer right to bed.  You know those things on the Twilight Zone that swirl around and send the people on the show into a trance?  Very similar feeling with watching the cars go around in circles.  That's why you have people like me just waiting for an explosion, crash, shit even a fender bender.  I realize that's a rather morbid hope due to the serious injuries that could ensue, but forgive me.  

Then we've got the so-called "big" moves that occur during the race that a viewer should supposedly get excited about.  Listen...watching a car pass another car might be good for some, but it doesn't excite me as a viewer.  You have these NASCAR announcers practically jumping up and down in the booth with excitement when cars pass other cars late in the race.  For me, I don't get any more excited watching that than watching a car pass a truck on Highway 65.  Excitement comes with touchdowns, interceptions, goals, 3-point shots, dunks, home runs, fights, etc.  But I would never group anything a race car driver does into that category. 

If the content isn't enough to bore you or put you to sleep, let's discuss the sheer time commitment.  My TV guide says that the Autism Speaks 400, the next NASCAR series race, will eat up 4 and 1/2 hours of your time on Sunday: Be sure to tune in 1:30-6 pm ET!!!! And I've seen longer race times.  But are you kidding me?  I mean if we're talking 2 college basketball games in that slot, sure i'll use that for my afternoon entertainment.  Unpredictable, interesting, fun...gotta love basketball.  But 270 minutes of racing?  Holy lord!  That is just either a recipe for boredom beyond belief or a hell of a long afternoon siesta.  Call me when the last two laps are on the tube and then maybe I'll wake up and hope for a crash!     

I have to say that while I think the "sport" is really rough to watch, I have mad respect for the drivers.  They participate in a high risk activity that requires a lot of skill and strategy.  I'm glad to concede that because it's 100% true.  But to the fueling racing fans reading this....that wasn't my point for this blog.  My point is that from a viewer's perspective, there are dozens upon dozens of things in international sports that I watch before sitting down to watch a race.  It is B-O-R-I-N-G.  Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go take a nap...I just talked about watching racing for too long.   

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Relegation System: A Great Way to Run A Pro Sport

For those of you who don't like the sport of soccer or don't care to follow it, I apologize in advance. But I do like professional soccer and I wanted to pay homage to the way they run things in the European leagues. Outside of the fantastic skill, electrifying stadiums, and die hard fans, European soccer leagues have even more to be proud of. What I'm referring to is the structure of their leagues. I think it is referred to this way anyway, but even if it's not, I'm going to call it the "Relegation System." I'll explain it in a second.

England, Italy, Spain, France, Scotland, Germany, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands are probably what I would consider to be the top 9 European soccer leagues. The last two may be debatable, but oh well. The point is that, in these countries, soccer (futbol, calcio, foosball, football, etc.) is the main attraction in terms of sports. In fact, these countries have so many teams that most of them house anywhere from 2-4 professional soccer leagues. So to promote competition and parity, the relegation system comes into play. So here's how it works. The top league is usually called the Premier League. If you finish better than the bottom 3 spots, you're safe. However, the bottom 3 teams in the standings are "relegated" to the league below. If you're in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th tier leagues, then the top 3 teams are "promoted" to the next league up and the bottom three teams are again relegated to the league below. The cycle occurs after every year. It's rewarding, yet punishing. It always keeps teams hard at work and humble because with one bad season, any team could be the next one down.

I love it. It is the best way to run things. The problem is that American sports don't exactly have enough teams or competitive bottom leagues to implement such a system. It's a shame because you have a lot of franchises that are so sorry and atrocious, that it might be a kick in the ass for them to realize that you actually have to earn respect, success, and fan loyalty. And it's not just about teams getting demoted. There are a lot of great stories that come out of this system. Today, Burnley, an English soccer team that was in the second highest league, earned a trip to the top by beating Sheffield United. The system allowed this small club the chance to make something of themselves against the likes of Manchester United or Chelsea. The moves don't come without a price either. Burnley will experience an estimated 60 million pound boost in revenue for the move to the Premiership. And the relegated teams will potentially lose millions of pounds or euros because of ticket prices, media contracts, etc.

These factors have key implications for teams, not just on the field, but from a business standpoint as well. That is why it's a smart system. By making these consequences (positive and negative) well known, the leagues maximize the effort, competition and overall quality of their teams from top to bottom. Hypothetically, the system would work in a similar manner in the U.S....say if there was a secondary professional football league. The Rams and Chiefs would have been out of luck last year and maybe a 2nd tier team from Orlando or Los Angeles or Columbus would be promoted to compete amongst the big boys. But that type of thinking would be a long way away.

You may be saying, "okay well a team from Orlando or Columbus from a bottom league wouldn't have enough talent to compete." But the fact is that these European teams have a deep pool of talent in their own country and they pull just as much talent onto their team from elsewhere in the world. The players with the will and the talent are out there, but the complexity of a plan to build a league structure as such is very high. I think that if soccer continues to grow in America, the MLS could eventually get to the point of a relegation system with multiple leagues. I mean, they keep adding teams every year. And as of a few years ago, the league is finally starting to amass some serious revenue. Evidence of that is seen in the large number of "soccer only" stadiums being constructed. I really think the MLS is well on its way. It would be incredible if they could develop a relegation system because I think they are one of the only American leagues that would be able to pull it off.

The relegation system is the model system for professional athletics in my opinion. There is no better way of promoting effort, passion, and hard work than this system. The threat of being sent down to the "minors" so to speak is always looming and the prospect of being able to play with the big guns is always in sight. It's awesome! So, to european professional soccer, I commend you. It's no wonder that the passion among your players and your fans is the most celebrated in the world.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

David Stern's Dream is Just One Round Away

Kobe Bryant.  Lebron James.  Dwight Howard.  Carmelo Anthony.  Just four of the NBA's finest superstars.  They also happen to be the only ones that are still standing in the playoffs this year.  We've got LeBron's Cavs against Dwight's Magic and Kobe's Lakers against Carmelo's Nuggets.  It is these types of matchups that a professional sports league dreams of when it comes to generating interest and excitement.  And the NBA is the best at making that dream come true.  

There is not a single professional league in the world that relies more on it's individual superstars.  Just go through the NBA teams in your head...not all of them, but most of them have a single player that is the face of the franchise.  He's the guy that always takes the game-winning shot attempt, he's the floor general, he's the guy that has the media eating out of his hand, he is the STAR. D-Wade, KG, King James, Kobe, Superman, CP3, T-Mac, Melo, AK-47, The Answer (for nostalgic purposes)...these well-known nicknames aren't just players, they are figures, personalities, and idols.  They don't reach this status without a reason.  The NBA's stars deserve every ounce of acknowledgement because they do things on the court that are simply unfathomable.  LeBron's freakish dunks, Dwight's emphatic blocks, and Ray Allen's pinpoint shooting accuracy are just a few examples of why people are interested in America's pro basketball league. 

In my lifetime, the NBA's darkest days started after Michael Jordan's reign ended.  The darkness extended until a few years ago, but it was the branding of the league's superstars that brought it back.  In the dark period, it was simply the Cavs vs. Heat.  Now, it's King James against D-Wade.  The intrigue of the league lies in the individual duels between the league's best.  And while not every team in the NBA today has that one big name, most of them do.  Whether it's Tim Duncan duking it out in the paint with Shaq or Chris Paul and Tony Parker trading no-look passes, the fact is that most NBA games have something like this to be excited about.  

People want to see the best of the best, and the NBA does a phenomenal job of building it up and showcasing it to the fullest extent.  You know, I really really love college basketball.  The "teamwork" mindset and the endless effort put forth by each and every player on both sides of the floor always blows me away.  Sitting in a passionate college student section is an experience I would never trade away.  However, what the college game lacks to some degree is superstars (Not all their fault I know...many of the NBA superstars didn't even go to college where they would have been plenty exciting).  I say "to some degree" because no one can watch someone like Stephen Curry at work and not immediately think he's a stud.  It's just that none of college basketball's stars stand out as much as they do in the pros.  And if you think about it, that fact is a testament to the very important "team first" mentality that makes the college game so good.  I think all players should experience that brand of basketball at some point because it tames the hot shot egos that often form in high school.  

Let's face it, though.  The NBA's star power is omnipotent.  It can't be topped.  And when you have individual franchise stars on nearly every team in the league, the postseason matchups are sure to be enticing for everyone.  The NBA has the formula down and it's working like a charm. The buzzer-beaters, the overtimes, the heated's all the work of superstars.  So fast forward to today.  Melo vs. Kobe, LeBron vs. Dwight, and the prospect of an NBA finals series involving Kobe against King James?   Get Outta Here!  David Stern, TV executives, and NBA marketing personnel have to be in a fantasy land right now.  And lucky for them, it appears they won't be coming down from Cloud 9 any time soon.   

Friday, May 22, 2009

Make up your mind Jake!

Yesterday I arrived at work around 11:15 a.m. and soon found out about the fast-moving Jake Peavy story. My occupation/job title has recently changed from student to sports radio intern, so yesterday my job was to write the sports updates and especially monitor the "Jake Peavy to the White Sox" rumors. Not a bad task. As I researched stories from different media outlets and refreshed web pages for updates, I learned a lot about the possible trade that would've sent the Padres ace to the South Side of Chicago. After gathering all of this somewhat important knowledge, I thought to myself how confused I am with Jake Peavy's ever-changing desires on where he wants to play baseball.

Until last year, when the Padres finished 63-99, the city of San Diego had a pretty good baseball team. The years 2005 and 2006 saw back-to-back division titles for the Padres and in 2007, despite an 89-73 record, the Padres just missed the postseason. Mr. Peavy actually won the Cy Young Award that year as well. But since then, the Padres have lost marquee players and the overall quality of their team has drastically decreased. Naturally, with failure comes desire for change, so in the 2008 offseason, Peavy wanted out of Southern California...or did he? My team, the Chicago Cubs, and the Atlanta Braves both made huge pushes to land the All-Star pitcher, but those attempts failed just before the season started. During the first portion of this season, there have been a few rumblings about Peavy possibly getting moved to here or there, but nothing ever came of it. So what is happening in these meetings that prevent these deals from getting done if Peavy is so adamant about gettng traded? Don't know, but I thought yesterday might have been the end...

Out of the blue, White Sox GM Kenny Williams (one of the better miracle workers in the league in terms of pulling off deals) looked like he had done it again. It wasn't a rumor this time around. As a matter of fact, a deal was agreed upon and completely put in place by both sides...the only thing was that Jake Peavy had the final say because of a no-trade clause in his contract. Uhh...Oh!

Before I reveal his decision, let's go back to what I learned after researching all of the stories at work. Jake Peavy goes hunting regularly in central Illinois with his buddy, Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt. He recently took in a Blackhawks playoff game from the front row with a irremovable smile. He has professed his love for the city of Chicago in interviews before. He's part of a Padres roster that, in my opinion (and probably his too), is one of the worst collections of baseball players the league has seen in awhile (Ok, maybe the Nationals are more pathetic). So of course he's going to say yes to the White Sox deal, right? Apppparrentlyyy not.

He said that he really prefers to play in the National League and he also cited his love for Southern California as a reason why he declined the move to the South Side. The National League thing kind of makes sense, but his desires to play for a contender were the same in the offseason when a few National League teams were willing to do anything to get him. And Jake, I know you love SoCal, but you've got very few options outside of the uninterested Dodgers, so you're probably going to end up somewhere else anyway.

The whole situation is very confusing to me. There are certainly a lot of factors that play into it: timing, place, money, whether the team is a contender, etc. I just don't get why one day he says he wants the hell out of San Diego and the next day he says he doesn't want to leave the area, even if a team from a city that he said he would love to play in offers him a deal. This dude has some conflicting thoughts and desires and yesterday during my research I found out the extent of his confusion.

If you ask me, I think he'll still be out of a Padres uniform around the All-Star break when teams start to make their playoff push. But it's just funny how much Jake Peavy confuses me and probably a lot of other sports people out there. I'll tell you...that would have been a HUGE pickup for the Sox, too. Floyd and Danks have been sooo disappointing this year and as much as Peavy doesn't want to go the AL, I think he would've done a lot of good on the South Side.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Underlying Issues with the Rooney Rule

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced today that the league is seriously considering expanding the boundaries of the Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule, established in 2003 by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, requires that any NFL team looking to fill a coaching vacancy must interview at least one minority candidate. Until the news came out today about the possible expansion, the rule only applied to coaching positions, not front office jobs. The proposed expansion would add the hiring of general managers to the list of jobs that would require minority interviews. Perfect. I think it would be absolutely acceptable to do that.

As a matter of fact, I think the rule has good intentions because among the NFL players, the group is extremely diverse; a healthy dose of white, african-american, and even samoan/pacific islanders. It is important for the professional sports leagues and teams to mirror their player base in terms of their own front office personnel. I think it just helps interleague relations as well as eases the minds of concerned outsiders that never believe their demographic is getting represented.

Now since the rule was established, it has made me ponder its implications and today's development just made me want to write about my thoughts on the issue. The rule was put into effect in 2003, as I mentioned, and since then the hiring of African-Americans went from 6% to 22%. The good news for Dan Rooney is that his rule is working. And hey, there have been some great minority coaches hired since the rule was implemented: Mike Tomlin and Lovie Smith to name two. Both of whom went to Super Bowls, unfortunately the latter didn't actually win the game.

Time for my issues with the rule. Do Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith, or Raheem Morris (new Bucs head coach) feel like they were hired because of the rule? Are they left wondering if they'd be in the same place if they weren't a minority? I'm sure, to a certain, point, they are. Now, to this day, there has not been a single team that has admittedly hired somebody because of the rule in place (obviously), but it makes you wonder.

And if you are a minority coach and you are not wondering if the rule had to do with your hiring then perhaps you may be a little offended that there is a rule at all. I think that, to a degree, this rule can be taken as a bit insulting for some minority coaches. If you were to go up to Mike Tomlin today and say "Boy, aren't you glad that they put in a rule so that you have a better chance of getting hired?"...I think he'd be pissed at you. He has a right to be because he probably knows that he didn't need some stupid rule to get him hired. He knows deep down that he can coach the game of football better than the other candidates.

Let's face it, African-Americans and other minorities have been playing this game for a long time; practically as long as white people. There are a ton of great coaching minds out there that are minorities. In this day and age, I would be very surprised if teams still make racially-charged decisions when they hire. And if they do, then I must be naive to our nation's current societal values. The fact is that I think the Rooney Rule is slightly unnecessary and I by no means say that in a negative way.

I just think that if you were to step into a prominent minority coach's shoes today, you would realize that these men have tremendous confidence in their football knowledge and their coaching abilities. Moreover, I would almost guarantee you that many of them would say that they don't need the rule to be recognized as a quality employee in this league.

I have tremendous respect for Dan Rooney, the Steelers owner; not only for what he has done in Pittsburgh, but his drive to increase diversity in the NFL. However, the Rooney Rule seems to slap minorities in the face as much as it helps them get jobs. In my eyes, NFL teams are going to hire based on what a candidate brings to the football field, not based on ethnicity. And if teams are hiring based on ethnicity these days, then that is just absurd. If I'm a minority coaching candidate, I'd hope that a team hired me because of my credentials and not because they were forced to interview me. And if I'm a minority coach that is confident in my own abilities, I'd certainly also like to think that I didn't need some stinkin' rule to help me get hired.

Who knows, maybe next year they'll extend the Rooney Rule so that includes the mandatory interviewing of redheads. Maybe then I can get the job in sports that I've always dreamed of.

Keep reading the blogs and I'll keep writing them. Feel free to comment, I'm always up for some good discussion.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Griffin will help, but the Clippers have a ways to go.

Never have I seen so much hype over the random selection of ping pong balls.  Yes, I'm talking about the NBA Lottery and ESPN's tireless coverage of it (seems to be getting longer and more in-depth every year).  Don't get me wrong, I like the lottery system and as a matter of fact, it provided me with one of my happiest sports moments in 2008.  The Bulls defied all odds and scored the #1 overall pick to nab Derrick Rose.  Rose ended up paying immediate dividends for the Bulls as they made an impressive playoff push against the defending champs and he ended up being named NBA Rookie of the Year.  So clearly I can't complain about the lottery too much.    

This year's presumed #1 overall pick, Blake Griffin, looks like he will land in L.A. after the Clippers won the jackpot tonight.  Griffin is freakishly athletic and occasionally enjoys hitting his head on the backboard while dunking.  I've boldly predicted that after a few NBA seasons under his belt, people will start to compare his athleticism to someone like LeBron James.  The young man can score in many ways, he can rebound, he can handle the ball, and he can swat shots out of the arena.  I'd sure love to have him on my team.  

The Clippers need him though...very very badly, but I wouldn't jump to any drastic conclusions yet about where the Clippers will finish in Blake Griffin's first season.  L.A. finished 19-63 last season and sadly I followed many of those games because I like to keep up with what former IU guard Eric Gordon is doing.  I can honestly say that a lot of their losses were blowouts.  I mean this team was far from competitive for the most part.  And while I think Griffin will help tremendously, I think he is just the first step in getting the Clippers to where they need to be.  

If Camby and Kaman can stay healthy this year, then the inside offensive game and post defense will be much improved.  If Baron Davis can climb his way back up to superstar status, then the team's leadership will be upgraded.  If Zach Randolph can remember not to get hammered drunk and drive home after games, then they will have one less player suspended.  If Eric Gordon can avoid a sophomore slump (which all indications point to no, but you can never be sure), then they will have a reliable bigtime scorer. However, take notice of all of the "ifs" that kick off the previous statements.  Those are important when talking about the Clippers because things have never really gone their way as a franchise.  They have won ONE playoff series since moving to L.A. in 1984.  They have ZERO division titles.  

Now I'm not saying that the tide isn't at least semi-turning with the presumed acquisition of the sensational Blake Griffin, but this organization has a history of underachievement.  I hope that Griffin brings the franchise to prominence, not just because I like him and Eric Gordon, but because it is about damn time for them to get out of the rut that they've been in for about two decades.  

Until then, people should not assume that the Clippers are going to be anything special just because of the lottery tonight.  Griffin needs to adapt to NBA life on and off the court and he needs to work on some basketball fundamentals, namely his mid-long range jumper.  So Clippers fans...I think you're on the right track, but it is going to take more than Mr. Griffin.   

Feel free to comment on the blogs.  Stay tuned for more content soon.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Cutler may lack big name targets, but he might not need them to succeed.

Its hard for me to relive Super Bowl XLI.  I of course speak of the Colts vs. Bears battle in which the Bears came up on the short 29-17.  It was especially painful for me as a Bears fan because at the time, I was a student at Indiana University.  Therefore, I had to face Colts fans on campus on a daily, hourly and even perhaps minute-by-minute basis in the wake of the loss, which meant a fair amount of verbal torment.  After awhile, the anger faded and the trash talk dwindled, but it pains me as I look back on the game.  And the pain that I speak of can really be attributed to one person: Rex Grossman.  I would say that I wish he knew how much anguish he caused Bears fans, but I'm pretty sure he already knows.  After all, he was the subject of a media frenzy for quite some time that continuously pinned him as a misfit, an underachiever, and a bust.  It would have been nearly impossible for Rex to avoid looking at some of the things that were written about him.  

Back to the Colts/Bears Super Bowl big of a dummy as Grossman may have appeared to be that year, he still semi-led a professional football team to the championship game.  And who was he throwing to that season?  Muhsin "My hands turn to concrete when I get to Chicago" Muhammed, Bernard "all I can do is run a fly route" Berrian, Desmond Clark, and Rashied Davis (sorry for no obnoxiously long nicknames for Desmond and Rashied, they're actually both rather serviceable).  Those players were the top four receivers during the 2006-2007 campaign.  Sounds like a deadly combination of players to me...yeah, except exactly the opposite.  The fact is that Rex Grossman and the less than glamorous receiving core that I just listed made it all the way to the Super Bowl and were actually relatively competitive in the final game.  

Fast forward to today.  The Bears now have Jay Cutler and are also coming off a draft in which they actually took something that they needed: receivers.  So now its time for a little simple math.  Subtract Muhammed and Berrian from the four that I discussed earlier and add a dynamic Devin Hester, a reliable Greg Olsen, a veteran Brandon Lloyd, and promising rookies Joaquin Iglesias, Johnny Knox, and Derek Kinder and you've got an intriguing list of targets for Cutler.  

I realize that the receiving core that I just mentioned above may seem mediocre to many, perhaps even laughable to teams that have been blessed with the likes of Boldin and Fitzgerald or Harrison and Wayne, but us Bears fans are used to a lineup like that.  People may laugh and laugh about Cutler's targets this year, but it's going to work.   

All I've heard since Cutler's arrival and even post-draft (in which we took 3 WRs) is "Nice job getting Jay Cutler, but he's got nobody to throw to, so its a worthless trade until they get him some help."   Wrong.  Dead wrong.  What the critics in the media and among the fans must realize is that Jay Cutler has far better targets for this upcoming year than Rex Grossman had in the Super Bowl run.  Now, I'm not saying that the Bears are going to make the Super Bowl this year because of the offensive improvement.  I think that there are, for the first time in awhile, some defensive issues that may hold the Bears back from such a feat this year.  But at least the new faces in the Bears offense could provide Cutler with some exciting options.  

So can you blame me for having thoughts of "what could have been" in the Colts/Bears Super Bowl showdown if we actually had a competent quarterback with a few more weapons?  It doesn't surprise me that outsiders still look at the Bears offense as a weak point because that's the way its been for years.  It's easy to do.  But for once, I'm confident in saying that the critics are wrong.  Jay Cutler has targets that will more than suffice.  They may not have big names, but they'll do.  And for once as a Bears fan, I may be asking myself this:  Is it the defense I should be worried about?

Feel free to comment on the blogs.  They'll be more content on the way soon, so stay tuned.  


Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Reflection on IU Basketball's Savior

I always told myself that if I ever started a sports blog, the first entry would be dedicated to Indiana University's most recent savior, Tom Crean.  So, as mainstream as that may sound to my fellow Hoosier fans, our current basketball coach will indeed be my first topic of discussion.  Since Tom Crean's arrival just over a year ago, the basketball program at Indiana has seen its ups and downs.  The ups can most certainly be attributed to the work of Coach Crean.  He weeded out the players with bad attitudes, he made a point of emphasizing accountability and responsibility, he has acquired talented recruits, and he has created an unflappable team unity.  

Crean was left with nothing after Kelvin Sampson, one of the biggest idiots on this planet, tried his best to ruin the tradition of Indiana basketball.  Yet, Crean still managed to sign Nick Williams, Malik Story and Verdell Jones in the small amount of time he had before the signing deadline.  Although Williams and Story are now gone because of reasons that don't include the Indiana coach, the point is that they spurned big time offers to play under Crean last season.  The players even knew full well that the team probably didn't have a shot at any sort of national recognition.  It was a clear testament to who he is as a coach.  The man is a tireless recruiter and has already managed to successfully court top notch high schoolers to come to Indiana, despite the sanctions placed on the program.  

The Hoosiers went 6-25 in Crean's first campaign as head coach.  For most college programs, a record that poor is more than grounds to dismiss the coach.  However, everyone around the program knew that the year was going to be rough...and rough it was.  The team showed improvement as time went on, though, and nearly all of that can be attributed to Crean's undying enthusiasm, endless determination, and incredible passion for coaching.  The ever-present Assembly Hall faithful never hurt either.  The season tested even the most die hard Indiana basketball fan, but Crean was always there to tell them to stay the course.  The close losses were heart-wrenching and the lack of postseason play left Hoosier fans feeling empty, but our coach never hid under a rock.  He makes appearances everywhere, delivers motivational speeches, and as of recently, he even lets you into his busy life via Twitter.  Seriously, even if you're like me and think Twitter is kind of dumb for your own personal use, check out his Twitter page if you want to see how passionate this guy is about Indiana and basketball in general.  

It is this type of evidence that breathes confidence into Hoosier fans.  The man relishes the opportunity to coach at Indiana and I love every bit of it.  In my 4 years at Indiana, I didn't see a Big Ten title or a NCAA tournament win past the first round, and of course my senior year was capped off with the 'ol 6-25 boy.  And you know what?  I'm happy to come to terms with that because of the hope that Tom Crean has given the program.  Maurice Creek.  Christian Watford.  Derek Elston.  Jordan Hulls.  Bobby Copabianco.  Bawa Muniru.  These young men (the next generation of Hoosiers) give me instant hope that Indiana basketball could be restored to its deserved prominence in just a few years.  And let's not forget the invaluable (no doubt painful) experience that Matt Roth, Tom Pritchard, Devan Dumes and Verdell Jones will bring to the table next season as well.  The fact that those players have a full season under their belt as starters or at least key bench players so early in their college careers is going to be unbelievably crucial to the team's success.   

The dark cloud that has been raining on the IU B-ball program since the Sampson news came out is still existent, but Tom Crean seems to be sending it on its way quicker than anyone could have imagined.  Pretty soon, the man that helped D-Wade on his way at Marquette, Tom Crean, will be bringing IU to prominence.  And for that I graciously thank him.  It was certainly worth the first blog entry.  

Stay tuned for more sports blogs.  I'm going to do my best to crank them out this summer.