Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Big XII Championship: Position by Position Breakdown



You can keep your Graham Harrell, folks, because these two are inarguably the best quarterbacks in the conference. The fact that their teams are in the title game is no coincidence, either - you all know about #10, who seems to have been on TV more this week than Wolf Blitzer and Peyton Manning combined. Chase Daniel is now a legit Heisman candidate, and will submit his final statement in that conversation Saturday night. Chase at times looked fidgety against the Sooner pass rush the first time these two played, and last season when OU came to Columbia and won. However, Daniel has been more and more poised in the pocket since then, and displayed unforeseen escapability last Saturday at Arrowhead.

One needs to look no further than the game against Texas Tech to determine how valuable redshirt freshman Sam Bradford is to the Oklahoma Sooners. Bradford exited in the first half with a concussion, and the Sooners never really got back on track, dropping that game in Lubbock. Last week against an overmatched Oklahoma State team, Bradford wasn't asked to do much, completing 11 of 15 passes for 150 yards, with 4 TD's and 1 pick. Bradford leads the country in passing efficiency with a 182.23 rating, but a key thing to note for Bradford is the disparity in home and road splits: Bradford has been impeccable in Norman, with 25 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and an efficiency rating of 207.35! In 5 games away from home (including the neutral Texas game), Sam has just 7 touchdowns, 4 picks, and a more modest rating of 139.23. He struggled against Iowa State and Colorado on the road, and I think he'll struggle in the Alamodome Saturday.

When these two teams last met, Mizzou's best ground threat, Tony Temple, was inactive. He's back this time, and gives MU the key cog in what really is an underrated ground game. Temple has 382 yards and 5 touchdowns since coming back to the lineup.

On the flipside, the tables have turned a bit, as Oklahoma's best runner and weapon on special teams, DeMarco Murray, is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. That puts the onus on Allen Patrick, a beast in his own right, to carry the load for OU. Patrick demolished the Oklahoma State Cowboys last week with 208 yards on 29 carries, and will look to do the same against the nation's 25th best rush defense. Patrick is the key to Oklahoma's success this weekend in San Antonio.

Recievers and tight ends
Mizzou is currently enjoying what might be the most talented group of pass-catchers in the history of the school. Chase Daniel has the privelege of throwing to a litany of weapons, including Mackey award finalist Martin Rucker, a freshman with after-burners in Jeremy Maclin, and extremely talented senior Will Franklin. Star TE Chase Coffman has been walking in a cast this week on an ankle he re-aggrivated on a PAT against Kansas, but is expected to play Saturday. His effectiveness on a bad ankle, though, is up in the air. When Kansas keyed in on Maclin and Franklin last week, DaNario Alexander and Tommy Saunders played like All-Americans. It will be interesting to see if they are able to do that against much a much deeper Sooner secondary, should the Tigers' big guns be blanketed.

Oklahoma exploited the size mismatches of WR's Juaquin Iglesias and Malcolm Kelly back the first time these two teams played. Iglesias snagged 7 catches for 77 and a score, while Kelly caught 5 for 58. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Joe Jon Finley give the Sooners a nice complement inside to go with the big guns at wideout. That being said, Chase Daniel's downfield accuracy makes his recievers all that more dangerous, and I give the edge to MU.

Offensive line
The Tigers offensive line has had a fantastic season, but this one isn't close. The Sooners' offensive line averages 322 pounds, and 6-5, 352 pound left guard Duke Robinson will be protecting some lucky NFL quarterback in a couple of years. That being said, Chase Daniel's run at the little gold man and Sam Bradford's success his freshman year are due in large part to the stellar O-line play they have enjoyed in 2007.

Defensive line
The biggest thing to watch on either team's defensive lines Saturday will be the effectiveness of Big 12 sacks leader Auston English for the Sooners. English has missed the last 3 games due to injury, and so far, Coach Stoops has been mum on his playing status. It is hard to believe that English will be at 100% this weekend, but even at half-speed, he's a weapon that needs to be accounted for.

Last week, the Tigers were able to put more pressure on Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing than he had seen all season long. He was frustrated, flustered, and failed to execute on the big stage. The Tigers defensive line doesn't get a whole lot of sacks, but will need to sufficiently pressure Bradford, get him out of his comfort zone, and force him to look like a freshman.

The Tigers' young core of linebackers doesn't feature one senior, but have rapidly matured and improved over the course of the season. Once considered the biggest weakness of the defense, they have evolved into another strength for a team on fire.

Oklahoma is used to churning out sensational linebackers - see Tedy Lehman, Rocky Calmus, etc. - and they have produced yet another all-world defensive menace in Curtis Lofton. Lofton terrorized Mizzou with 18 tackles in their first matchup, and is second in the conference in tackles per game this season. MU's group has been great recently, but no one on MU's defensive unit is as talented as Lofton.

When defensive leader Pig Brown was lost for the season, many close Missouri followers expected the Tiger defense to struggle the rest of the season. What it did though, was serve as a catalyst for William Moore to emerge as a star and leader of this Tiger secondary. With an INT of Todd Reesing Saturday, Moore tied the all-time MU single season mark for interceptions in a season of 7 with NFL hall-of-famer Roger Wehrli. The secondary is vastly undersized when matching up with big OU wideouts Iglesias and Kelly, though, and face a difficult challenge Saturday.

The same can be said about the Oklahoma Sooners. It's nearly impossible for anyone to match up well with Rucker and Coffman when they're healthy. One big question in this matchup, of course, is the health of Coffman, who caught 10 passes for 102 yards in the teams' first meeting. CB Reggie Smith was a Big 12 preseason first-teamer, and has subsequently backed that up with 3 picks, while DJ Wolfe and Marcus Walker are ball-hawks who have been menacing Big 12 offenses all season.

Special Teams
Both teams are pretty sound in the kicking game, so let's look at the kick returners.
When the Tigers put Jeremy Maclin on the field, the Sooners will, at all times, know where he is. He's second in the NCAA in all-purpose yardage, and has long since broke the freshman record in that statistic. Maclin gives the Tigers this game's best big play threat. That statement is made possible by the absence of DeMarco Murray, who's injury takes away Oklahoma's best weapon in the kicking game. The Sooners are number 1 in the country in kickoff return average at 28.23, but without Murray, that stat is far less significant.

It's no secret that Bob Stoops might be the best coach in the country. He's 4-0 career against Mizzou, 4-1 in Big 12 championship games, and 27-4 against the Big 12 North. Gary Pinkel has done a sensational job this season, and would become a likely favorite for coach of the year should the Tigers win the game Saturday. That being said, this is an impossible matchup to win for almost anyone not named Bear Bryant.

So, to recap: the two biggest things to watch for me in this game will be the health/effectiveness of Auston English, and the ability for the Mizzou defensive line to make Sam Bradford uncomfortable. MU's offense is rolling right now, and are coming off a win in an absolutely electric bowl-game environment last weekend in Kansas City. Oklahoma will be without arguably their best offensive weapon, though Allen Patrick is certainly a pleasant plan B to have available. Sam Bradford's best win away from Norman was against a flat, overrated Texas team, and struggles on the road against ISU and Colorado lead me to believe he may scrap a bit Saturday night in San Antonio. I predict a close game, with a William Moore interception in the 4th quarter leading to a draining TD drive for the Tigers to seal the deal.

#9 Oklahoma 31, #1 MISSOURI 41

Tigers play WVU in the BCS National Championship.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Countdown to Armageddon at Arrowhead: 5 days

Some notes about the Border War:

-Series tied 53-53-9*
*This total reflects a 1960 Kansas win as a Missouri win due to a Kansas forefeit, it was later revealed that KU used an ineligible player.
-Series dates back to 1891...this is the 'oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi'
-First time game has been played in Kansas City since 1945...18 of the first 19 matchups were played in Kansas neutral sites, KU leads the series 13-6-3.
-Until the early 1950's, the MU-KU game was played on Thanksgiving Day

Biggest games in Kansas-Missouri history:
-In 1909, both teams went into the season finale undefeated. Missouri won the game 12-6 to finish the season 9-0-1.
-In 1960, Kansas defeated Missouri, ranked no. 1 in the country for the only week in the history of the school, 23-7. Kansas was later forced to forfeit the game for using an ineligible player.
-In 1969, Mizzou defeated KU, 69-21. That point total remains a single-game record for the Tigers.
-In 1991, Tony Sands rushed for 396 yards against MU, a mark that is 2nd all time on the single-game rushing yards list (LaDaninan Tomlinson, 1999 vs UTEP, 406 yards).

The MU-KU bass drum:
The MU-KU Bass Drum is issued to the winner of the Missouri-Kansas football game. It originated in 1935, and was originally conceived as Indian War Drum in nature by a couple of Mizzou alumni, since Osage Indians roamed the plains of Kansas and Missouri long before the state universities were founded. The trophy's original intent was to stimulate new interest in longtime series that had dwindled during the Depression of the '30s and MU's all-time low in football victories. The supposedly authentic Indian drum was purchased in a Kansas City pawn shop, and new drum was acquired prior to the 1986 game; it was autographed originally on both drum heads by KU and MU alumni. The tradition was temporarily forgotten for a few years but resumed on an annual basis in 1947.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Pinkel Could Wind Up In Line for Carousel

The Tigers have been good. Almost too good. Maybe too good for their own good.

Good enough to enter the discussion as a dark horse to play for the national championship. So good, their quarterback is throwing his name into the Heisman Trophy candidacy discussion. So good, their head coach is having his name bandied about as a nominee for national coach of the year awards.


One bad part to all these good vibes is the consequences of such good actions. Several prominent programs could be looking for new head coaches this off-season: Nebraska, Texas A&M, Auburn (should Tommy Tuberville take the Aggies' job), Iowa and Michigan all could be jockeying for position on this season's college football coaching carousel, a ride that gets started earlier and earlier every season.

This forecast is coming far, far, in advance: think looking 12-days ahead for weather on an upcoming vacation. The forecast, nonetheless, is not without a bit of foreboding context. Callahan is all but out at Nebraska, and Monday's report of Dennis Franchione's contract being bought out by the Aggies has spelled out the end of his tenure in College Station. Lloyd Carr has been on the brink of retirement for seemingly 5 seasons, now, and Kirk Ferentz is treading on thin ice in Iowa City.

*Cue carousel music*

Let's say the Tigers do the unimaginable and run the table the rest of the season. A Big 12 Championship is going to put Coach Gary Pinkel's name in many a pundit's column for all these revolving spots. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen also could be performing his way into a job interview or two. It's difficult to imagine Coach Pinkel fleeing to Lincoln after the mass exodus of Husker recruits this fall changing their minds and deciding on Columbia, but it isn't inconcievable to think Christensen could be a candidate for the position. Aggieland is seeking a big name (think Tuberville), but should Auburn need a new head coach, would Coach Pinkel think about heading for a pay raise in the SEC?

What about Ann Arbor? This could be Lloyd Carr's swan song as the Wolverines' head coach, and Big Blue could throw big green at Gary Pinkel to lead their program. The Hawkeyes could, too.

Just some food for thought.

Food that doesn't sound so good.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Ending the Folsom Field Blues, With Authority

How impressive was that?

A quick glance at the luminosity that was Saturday night's performance in Boulder...

Chase Coffman re-asserts self as your future NFL fantasy football team's tight end:

Here's a line pulled directly from the AP story about Saturday's game that basically says it all: "Chase Coffman turned No. 9 Missouri's trip to Colorado into his own personal pro tryout, displaying the talent that has NFL scouts drooling over the 6-foot-6, 245-pound touchdown machine."

I'll say.

Highlight-reel after-the-catch physical prowess makes it any wonder how any team in the country could cover CC with anything less than the entirety of their linebacking core. With three more TD receptions Saturday night, he's got 19 for his career, already passing Justin Gage's old school record of 18. But, he arguably was not the best offensive player named Chase on Saturday night.

Chase Daniel re-asserts self as dark horse to fly to NY for the Heisman ceremony:

How about 26-for-44, and personal highs of 422 yards and 5 touchdowns? The 55 points MU racked up Saturday was the most Colorado has allowed at home since a 59-20 loss on October 8, 1983 to...Mizzou. He is engineering an offense that has scored 30 or more points in all nine of their games this season, which is a school record. The Tigers are now the 6th-ranked scoring offense in the country, 7th-ranked total offense, and 5th in passing. If the Tigers win out, you may be seeing Chase Daniel at Radio City Music Hall in December. But, the best story of the day was easily...

Tigers D bringing home the bacon without Pig:

Let's highlight some key figures here. The Buffs managed a meager 196 yards of total offense. They were a horrific 3-for-17 on 3rd downs, and forced into 3 turnovers. The 8th-best defense IN THE CONFERENCE lost their best player and on-field leader the week before, and may have just painted their best picture of the season.

The 8-1 start is the best for MU since 1969, and I need not tell you that the #6 BCS ranking is the new high water mark for Tiger football.


Truman Cranks Dat Soulja Boy

The song is awful, and has completely run its course, but that doesn't hurt the replay value of Truman getting down.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

Saturday's win over a struggling ISU Cyclones team wasn't sparkling, or noisy, like the W's over Nebraska and Texas Tech, but was a win nonetheless in a season of convention going the way of the T-Rex in college football. Regardless, the Tigers were 7-1 overall, 3-1 in the Big 12, and found out Sunday afternoon they had vaulted to #9 in the Coaches', AP, and BCS polls.

And we left the game feeling like we got kicked in the stomach.

We frantically sent text messages and made calls describing what had happened. We listened for Gervino to relay the news on the post-game show. We scoured the interwebs upon arrival at the house looking for an update. An update on our injured star defensive player.

Pig Brown writhed in pain on the turf of Faurot Saturday, with the game hovering in garbage time. His leg was de-mobilized, and he was carried and carted off the field, towel-over-dome, defeated and in obvious pain.

For those of you who haven't heard, Pig Brown, he of two Big XII Defensive Player of the Week awards, has been lost for the season with a ruptured achilles tendon. Brown would have been a top contender for conference defensive player of the year.

Sound familiar?

October 21, 2006. The Tigers had just knocked off Kansas State at home, rebounding from a loss in College Station the week before, to go 7-1 overall, 3-1 in the Big XII. The win, though, was horribly tempered by the loss of Missouri's all-time sacks king and the biggest playmaker on their defense, defensive end Brian Smith. A broken hip had ended his playing career.

The Tigers lost their next three games, and four of their last five.

The vibe was not of the jovial manner it could have been Saturday night in CoMo. It's because we've seen this all before - promise, build-up, even the unwarranted air of expectation surrounding the ballclub. And then the other shoe drops... or the broken hip, or ruptured achilles.

So where from here? Mizzou has lost, arguably, their most irreplacable piece besides Chase Daniel. Justin Garrett and Del Howard are part of a secondary that has been free-wheelingly rotated throughout 2007, so at least they aren't completely green. The litmus test won't come this weekend in Boulder against the Buffs' offense, which is a modest 10th in the Big XII, though any game in the thin air is tough goings. Mizzou has lost their last 4 contests in Boulder, and only won once (1997) there since anyone on their roster has been on earth (1983).

The defense will look to the Sean Weatherspoons, Darnell Terrells, Stryker Sulaks, Brock Christophers and Ziggy Hoods of the world to elevate their games. Garrett and Howard know the shoes they will try to collectively fill are colossal in nature. That D that looked stout against Nebraska, and downright impressive against T-Tech, knows they have a whole new challenge on their hands.

And we'll just try to shake that familiar sinking feeling.

-Note: this post also appears on the new ESPNU@MIZZOU blog... and I think you should give it a look.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Right Where They Should Be

Note - this post appears on our new ESPNU @ MIZZOU blog, as well.

This is a homer post. An unabashed, uncompromising piece of pro-Tiger propoganda from myself as a Tiger fan and MU student. Why a homer post to inaugurate this blog? Because that's how I feel right now; I'm about as pleased as I have ever been as a Tiger football backer, and it couldn't have come at a more welcome time.

You see, I didn't grow up following the Tigers. I'm one of those out-of-state J-school students who has his Apple laptop and out-of-state liscense plates and non-Cardinals baseball cap. I don't engage in those "Which St. Louis high school are you from" conversations that permeate the social culture of MU. Sometimes I'd like to - even if I was lying throughout the convo - I'd probably have made more friends here.

So my fandom spans ALL the way BACK to 2004. I know, such long suffering. I've been familiar with the fifth down, and the kicked ball touchdown against Nebraska, and the other painful letdowns of Mizzou lore, but not like the long-term Tiger fans. Still, my tenure here has been marred with negativity and bad news while I tried to immerse myself in my future alma mater's athletic program.

There was the Aaron O'Neal tragedy, the blown 2nd half leads at home in the '04 season, the unceremonious end to Quin's reign, that baseball player who assaulted someone with a bat a few years back, getting close and blowing big chances to advance to the College World Series, our basketball team's off-court issues this year, the blown lead in the Sun Bowl last year, and so on. All just my rite of passage as an MU fan.

This football season has been such a welcome break from that disappointment - so far. God knows they could very well break our hearts later on. That being said, I love where the Tigers are at this moment at 6-1: good enough to have a healthy buzz at home, not flashy enough to catch the ire of the national media. Beating OU would have put us directly into the national title conversation, which would have been fun, but completely unrealistic. Mizzou is not one of the top 5 teams in the country. Top 10? Possibly. The rest of MU's schedule will tell.

The Tigers have some difficult tests remaining on their schedule, but should be favored to win the remainder of their currently scheduled games. Games everyone have pointed to are the trip to Kansas State, and of course the big game at Arrowhead. The lone exception to this favorite theory could be if Kansas were to get to November 23rd undefeated - the line may favor kU if that happens, though I wouldn't make them the bet to win that game. An undefeated mark for the Jayhawks would be owed as much to their cupcake out-of-conference and fortunate Big XII skeds as their on-field acumen.

A trip to the Big XII title game would mean two bowl possibilities for Mizzou: a shocking win against (most likely) Oklahoma, and we would be BCS bound, playing in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. Lose? We're headed to Dallas to play in the Cotton Bowl. Would you have taken THAT going into 2007? Of course you would. Dallas is a much nicer city than El Paso (site of last year's Sun Bowl); I know this, I'm from Texas.

The Big XII Championship is in San Antonio. I'd love to watch my boys play just ONE game in my home state this season.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The View From Bristol, Part 2

The cosmos chose me to work here during a fascinating summer in sports.

Baseball will reflect on this as the year of the milestone: I worked during Trevor's 500th save, Craig's 3,000th hit, and Tom's 300th win. I was here when Griffey passed Frank Robinson, The Big Hurt hit his 500th, Sammy slugged 600, and Barry went by the Hammer. My in-person interview came the morning after one no-hitter (Buehrle), and I built pushback graphics for another (Verlander).

I was on the set of Outside the Lines, minutes before the show started, when news broke that Bill Walsh had died, thus altering the entire show and giving me a real-world experience in live TV. I was at the ESPN News desk when news passed that Rod Beck had died, sending me scrambling to put his career in perspective for viewers, instantly.

I saw Houston Oiler Bruce Matthews and Missouri Tiger Roger Wehrli join the hall of fame with a Mo City native (Thurman Thomas) and a Texas football icon (Michael Irvin). As people ranted and raved about the sanctity of sport collapsing, I watched two members of a dying breed, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, classily take their place among baseball's immortals.

I remember the news wire crossing that described the Tim Donaghy scandal - something that we know neither the depth nor horrific effect of yet on the integrity of sport. Tim Donaghy's name will take it's place with that of Pete Rose, the Black Sox, and Boston College basketball.

I saw the unraveling of the Mike Vick case - something that is quickly and unfortunately deteriorating into a divisive racial battle reminiscent of the OJ Simpson trial. Whatever rational, adult thought is shared by knowledgable people is soon to be smothered by the screaming of the moronic as this case exponentially expands. Few things incite Americans more than racial discussions. Few things impassion Americans like their pets. Fuse elemental pieces of the two, and watch the mad sociological experiment begin.

I already lament my defense of due process that I will have to make in the face of a racist comment that has nothing to do with the case.

I was present when the network was bashed, and rightfully so, for the escapade that was the 'Who's Now' tournament. The concept of this wasn't what I totally dispised, but the sickening presentation of it. The occasional pandering to idiots is tolerable to an extent, but this fiasco took the cake. Want to know how fake it really was? A certain actress during one of the tapings didn't know who Dwyane Wade was. She was then fed what to say by co-workers of mine. Many people inside the company liked the whole thing as little as I did.

I was here as a living broadcasting legend left his post at the company. When people have asked me about my career aspirations, I sometimes said, "I want to be Dan Patrick." It seems fitting to me that he would walk away while I was employed at his company. I don't pretend to think I'll ever be some titan of media, but it would be cool if I look back in 30 years and remember I got my foot in this business the same time a personality I admire pulled his away.

I have walked the hallways and parking lot and studio sets where the famed 'This is Sportscenter' ads were filmed. I have eaten at the Caf far too many times, standing in line to pay for my salad alongside Trey Wingo and Buster Olney. (I have learned to always go with the omelet bar when presented the chance.) I have had friendly conversations with The Schwab, Steve Bunin and Dari Nowkwah. I have been humbled by the depth of sports knowledge people in the research room have. I have had Neil Everett, John Anderson and Scott Van Pelt express their admiration for a horse-related, hand-drawn sign at a basketball game that may or may not have been key to getting me this job.

I have eaten at what is likely the Outback Steakhouse where events transpired that led to the termination of sport blog martyr Harold Reynolds. Sometimes I wonder if Harold realizes that he may be one day remembered more for being a subculture's cult hero than an All-Star second baseman. Speaking of blogs, I admired the step Goliath took when it invited David (Will Leitch from Deadspin) to discuss criticism of ESPN in open dialogue on air. I think sites like Deadspin serve as an unfiltered ombudsman that when used correctly, can greatly benefit the company. Scott Van Pelt told me he thought the fall out from his conversation with Leitch was pretty fascinating.

I met and worked with basically every on-air personality you can imagine, and 99.99% of my experiences were overwhelmingly positive. There's a reason why this place is so successful: the building is filled with obscenely talented individuals. It's also filled with hilarious, sharp people, too. That being said, everyone respects hard work and professionalism, which I guess I tried to pull off. I'll just say this - If you can't enjoy yourself at work doing what I did this summer, you just ain't like me.

I'll wrap it up by saying this: I got to work for the biggest sports media organization in the world, immersed in their day-to-day studio production, during a fascinating, tumultuous period.

What did you do this summer?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

We're Talkin' Homer, Ozzie and The Straw...

The Simpsons Movie comes out today, and I, for one, am thoroughly excited. I have long believed that every aspect of life can be explained by, poked fun at, and rationalized by The Simpsons. The show has been an integral part of my upbringing, and has done as much as anything else to mold my sense of humor. Obviously, I'm not alone in this boat - it's been nice to see the celebration of the show in mainstream and alternative media as the hype machine hit full throttle for the movie.

Since I graduate from college in December, am working at a place I've always wanted to work at this summer, Craig Biggio is retiring, and this movie is coming out - this really feels like the absolute end of youth for me. It's now time to get my grown man on everyday, and not just when convenient. Fuck.

Anyway, a source at my current employer did this bit of baseball-and-Simpsons related research, and I felt compelled to share it with you fine people. I present to you, a collision of two of my favorite things on this here planet, baseball and Los Simpsons:

* Only two players enshrined in the 4 major sports' Halls of Fame carry the last name "Simpson": Bills great O.J. Simpson and Hockey Hall of Famer "Bullet" Joe Simpson.

* There have been 8 Simpsons in MLB history…. The Simpson who hit the most "Homers" was Harry Simpson, who had 73 career HR.

* There has only been 1 Simpson in NBA history -- Ralph Simpson (not to be confused with Ralph Sampson), who played 10 seasons, mostly with the Nuggets.

In MLB History there have been....

20 players named Burns
16 players named Barney
15 players named Otto
11 players named Homer
7 players named Moe
6 players named Bart
4 players named Skinner
3 players named McClure
0 players named Flanders
0 players named Disco Stu

* There are 78 MLB players all-time listed as having been born in one of the 14 "Springfields" in the United States -- including reliever Allan Simpson, who is the only Simpson born in a Springfield! Some notable Springfieldians: Robin Roberts, Rabbit Maranville, Chris Capuano, Jeff Fassero, Jayson Werth.

Conversely, there are only 7 major leaguers from Shelbyville.

* Notable athletes to have appeared as themselves on the Simpsons:

LeBron James
Venus and Serena Williams
Dan Marino
Oscar de la Hoya
Tom Brady
Michelle Kwan
Lisa Leslie
Yao Ming
Pete Sampras
Johnny Unitas
Warren Sapp
Magic Johnson
Rosey Grier
Troy Aikman
Randy Johnson
Terry Bradshaw
Bret "the Hitman" Hart
Joe Frazier
Andre Agassi
Dennis Rodman
Joe Namath
Tom Kite
Gerry Cooney

... and the entire starting lineup from the classic "Homer at the Bat" episode...

Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Ozzie Smith, and Darryl Strawberry.
My favorite line from that fantastic 1992 episode:
"MATTINGLY! I told you to shave those sideburns!" - Mr. Burns

“The Simpsons” is an inexhaustible repository of humor, invention and insight, an achievement without precedent or peer in the history of broadcast television, perhaps the purest distillation of our glories and failings as a nation ever conceived. - A.O. Scott, New York Times

Here's a great review of the movie from the NYT:

"In "Brother's Little Helper," a paranoid Bart shoots down a satellite that Major League Baseball was using to spy on everyone. Mark McGwire, however, calms the public by landing in a helicopter and asking: "Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?"

The crowd's response: "Dingers! Dingers!"

(By the way, wouldn't it have been awesome had McGwire delivered the same line when he testified before Congress? Had he done so, he might be going into Cooperstown this weekend.)" - Jim Caple,

And Jim Caple's gem about the aforementioned episode:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The View from Bristol, Part 1

This isn't a blog about the cool shit I've seen during my time at ESPN. For the record, I've seen alot of cool shit. My summer has been a perpetual vision of cool shit.

Rather, I wanted to take on a few of the journalistic items that have crossed my mind, and the collective sports media consciousness, in these past weeks.

ESPN's dynamic, because of it's vastness, is invariably complicated. The business relationships that made it into the monopolic behemoth it is today have impacted its journalistic integrity at times. Don't think this is lost on the people who work there, though - they're normal, working professionals doing the best they can, and fight this mixture of journalistic integrity and commercial obligation, like every other facet of the media.

During a Q and A session, I asked one of the veterans of the company, who had a journalism degree, how he felt about infusing advertisements into SportsCenter (the example I used was a mini-trailer for Pirates of the Carribbean leading into a highlight for the actual Pittsburgh Pirates game). The pessimist in me expected him to skate around the answer. He was refreshingly honest when he said he was torn by the whole thing.

He told the room that he knows he and the company have obligations to the company fueling their perpetual growth, but that there has to be a threshold the network reaches in its cross-promotional efforts. He then wanted my opinion, and I told him it hurts to see things like the trailer as a journalist, but I understand why it happens. I joked that I was worried about being honest because I loved it in Bristol, but he seemed pleased with my response.

NHL die-hards have let it be widely known that they believe hockey is being intentionally pushed out by the network. Personally, I chalk up the NHL fans conspiracies as denial that their sport has been horrifically marketed and manipulated for the better part of 2 decades. That, and those making these comments are probably coming from places where the sport still thrives - i.e., the Northeast. Get outside that bubble, and you'll see that apathy regarding the sport reigns over most of the U.S.

Also, I'd like to add this: I've heard more hockey-related banter inside the ESPN newsroom the past few months than I have the rest of my life combined. I would argue that ESPN has covered transactions in the sport this summer on a fair scale in terms of newsworthiness. Some of the anchors would be happier if it was talked about more.

ESPN, from my experience there, has been a fantastic organization and a joy to work at, but it's hard to see them conspiring in a room to destroy hockey. There are so many hundreds of voices channeling into the network's product, that to imagine them all pushing one specific agenda is kind of laughable. Honestly, efficiency is not their strongest suit.

As someone who has spent the summer witnessing the hundreds of technicalities that go on during highlight show broadcasts, I can assure you that the frantic work being done by so many professional individuals doesn't permit pausing to remember how much the network hates hockey.

This isn't about hockey, though - what I'm reaching for is a broader point. When you're the biggest show in town, the people will pick at your flaws, rather than celebrate your success. Spiteful commenters on blogs like Deadspin (which I enjoy) and Kissing Suzy Kolber (which I enjoy immensely) harp on everything that the WWL does wrong. Berman is annoying, Who's Now is ridiculous, and the like. Well, not the like - really, the commentary is more harsh, vulgar, and often hilarious.

But this is no different than anyone, or anything else, that achieves widespread success. When a band blows up, indie kids who touted their greatness think they suck. Pseudo-intellectual hip-hop heads loved Common until he went and sold a bunch of records. And sports fans yearn for the glory days, when ESPN was just spreading it's multi-national wings, and Dan and Keith were your boys in the SC anchor chairs.

People throw rocks at the throne, no matter what field that throne lies in. Nobody bothers to pepper the up and comer with stones - on the contrary - they often see them as trendy and fresh. When they get to the top, they've reached their zenith, they've jumped the shark, it's all downhill. Many people clamor for change, disregarding if the product is even better than before, because crispiness appeals to their microwavable tastes. What can we get that's FRESHER?

In the consistently negative sports blogosphere, this is what has happened to Bill Simmons, and is beginning to happen to Deadspin. By 2008, Kissing Suzy Kolber, or the Big Lead, or whatever, have a strong likelihood of feeling this. And then, someone who's new will have their 18 months in the sun, until they're picked apart by those who just love to bitch about everything.

Will Leitch sounded like a nervous, web-sufficient hermit on adderrall when he was on The Dan Patrick Show being interviewed by Scott Van Pelt last week. I thought Van Pelt was fair, yet managed to lightly scorch the obviously nervous Leitch. After seeing how he's acted in the spotlight, I can't help but form new opinions of Will. Maybe the safe-house of blogging suited Will better than going into journalism face-first? Mere speculation, but that's just the impression I've been gradually left with.

For a long time, ESPN has been able to skate by on its sheer size. The new flock of sports blogs that find its flaws can serve as a great ombudsman and resource for the network if used properly.

Will had a fantastic chance to champion the journalistic traits of Deadspin the Media Critic when Van Pelt asked him to. Scott asked Mr. Leitch what he would change at ESPN. Will made a lame joke, then tried to talk about the lack of transparency of the network, but his verbose analogy was difficult to follow, and lost its effectiveness.

I guess the bitter masses haven't found the right critic in Mr. Deadspin. They'll keep looking.

More to come later in the summer.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thanks, Mr. Biggio.

Craig Biggio, one of my childhood heroes, and a figure that will be celebrated in Houston for as long as baseball is relevant in the annals of history, reached 3,000 hits tonight. I couldn't be more proud of him, either.

During an ESPN highlight, Karl Ravech said that what Derek Jeter is to the Yankees, Craig Biggio is to the Astros. This is not true. The Yankees have a litany of baseball legends, world championships, and folklore. The Astros have none of this.

We have a small handful of division titles, a few playoff series wins, and one pennant. We have part of Nolan Ryan's career, the Astrodome, and those rainbow jerseys. We narrowly missed getting the chance to make that Bill Buckner game never exist in 1986. Our biggest moment in the sun lasted a whole four games, as we were quickly swept by the White Sox in 2005. The memory that resonates most nationally of that season was actually one of incredible deflation: the Pujols blast off Lidge.

But most of all, we have our Killer B's. We have two quiet, dignified, professional all-time greats who never got the affection of the national media, but always had our admiration and affection.

Craig Biggio has never hit a ground ball not worthy of being legged out, and one base has always been a chance to get two (see: tonight's 3,000th hit). (Additional note: Biggio is the all-time leader in doubles by a right-handed hitter. That's of anyone, ever, in the history of baseball.) He has been the consummate team player, moving from catcher, to second base, to center field, to left field, back to second base, and never once complaining about it. He doesn't show up umpires, plays with relentless desire, and the biggest qualm the commissioner's office has had with him is some extra pine tar on his bat, or the Sunshine Kids pin he wore on his hat during batting practice.

I wish I could live my life like Craig Biggio played the prime of his baseball career: selfless, tireless, passionate, dignified, and consistently excellent.

It seems fitting that our legend won't even be the lead story on SportsCenter on this night. Hell, it wasn't even the only milestone passed in baseball ON THIS DAY - Frank Thomas clocked his 500th home run this afternoon. He has a split screen corner graphic on moments after the moment happens. It seems fitting for a player who has been underappreciated his whole career.

My city may briefly begrudge this, but we're used to it. Our two NBA titles are largely forgotten because they came during the Jordan off-years. We were led by a quiet, dignified star then, too. I digress.

In an abysmal season, we can celebrate the career we were blessed to be a part of as Astro fans. Thanks, Bidge. I'll be there in Cooperstown when you don the first Astro hat in the Hall of Fame.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why You Can't Be Mad At the Rocket

I'm not surprised, or even really that disappointed, at today's news of Roger Clemens signing on with the Yankees. Fans without a sense of history will call him a traitor, or worse, but the truth of the matter is the organization didn't nearly have the luster of the Big Apple. It never has, and it never will. That statement doesn't serve as an indictment of the Star, but is just an honest compare and contrast exercise with the Yankees.

Today, the Houston Astros were summoned back into the realization that they, despite their franchise's relative success in the past decade, are still the Houston Astros. The Astros' zenith was a world series appearance in 2005. The year before that, they won their first post-season series ever. The Astros, like almost all professional sports franchises around the world, completely pale in comparison with the international beacon of success known as the New York Yankees. They are an American symbol, recognized globally; the Astros are a historical also-ran who built the first indoor baseball stadium.

I remember my thought process when rumors began to surface of Roger Clemens signing with the Astros in 2004. I honestly couldn't believe what I was hearing. Roger Clemens? With my Astros? Is he serious? The man is arguably the best right handed pitcher in the history of baseball, and in my opinion, the best one since World War II. The Astros were best recognized around the country for rainbow jerseys in the 80's, artificial turf and Jeff Bagwell. I remember being floored by the news that he was joining Andy Pettitte in the starting rotation. His signing truly elevated the status of the franchise to heights it hadn't come close to before.

Since the day he arrived, the storyline in the national media was Roger Clemens first, Houston Astros second. To Astro fans it may have seemed unfair, but on a bigger scale, this perception is totally justifiable. Richard Justice said in a column / blog today that the Yankee boys just didn't find us that interesting. I don't agree with Richard alot of the time, but he got it right here. Houston is a big city, but New York is THE big city. Besides, Roger doesn't deserve to pitch valueless 2-1 games in front of 17,000 people in Pittsburgh in September for a 3rd place team. He's an icon, and his legacy in sports is bigger than that of the entire Houston Astros organization.

And as someone who loves the Astros, that's tough to admit.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Best 4 Days of the Year

I'll just tell you now: I won't be able to sleep tonight. This is Chirstmas Eve for basketball fiends like yours truly. We're entering the greatest 4-day sequence on the sports calendar. Who are the other candidates? Allow me to sift through them and piss on their contrasting lameness.

Super Bowl Sunday be damned - the game is usually a disappointment, and the scene is such a clusterfuck of commercialism and hangers on that the game is an afterthought to most people. What else comes close? MLB's opening day? The games are too insignificant, and it's still cold in half the cities. BCS week? There's your probable runner-up, but the hoops action is so much more concentrated. BCS week is delicious, but it's too much coke, not enough whiskey.

I'll take my double tall of bracket and ball busting basketball ludicrosity now, thanks. At this time, I'd like to spew some random thoughts about the tournament, because I write this for the jolly of it, and don't have editors to cramp my style with "structure" and "facts."
You know how I know you're gay? You don't have a man-crush on Kevin Durant. This man is the balls, and has plans including but not limited to 32-foot, off-balance threes in the face of double teams. I, for one, have welcomed our new basketball overlord, and wish him a pleasant trampling of the Fighting Reggie Theuses in round one and USC in round 2. After Kevin is done urinating on the facemask of Tyler Hansbrough in the sweet 16, you too will be ready to kneel at the throne of this KG-TMac hybrid sent to us from another galaxy.

The Buckeyes of Ohio State are of course led by 37-year old college freshman Greg Oden. Oden has recently had his jock re-hopped on by many because his injured right hand has healed at long last. Alas, he is now ready to live up to the billing he recieved as an offensive dynamo coming into the season. He also will be fully prepared to travel through time, rationalize the Iraq war, and fulfill several biblical prophecies.

Hopefully you've been fortunate enough to see Joakim Noah's spastic, seizure-like hyphy dance of a celebration from last weekend. If not, go ahead and YouTube it now. Some say he's a douche for this work of artistic expression, but I disagree - I wish Peyton Manning would have got his Mark Madsen on next to Jim Nantz after the Super Bowl.

My nausea is kicking in now, but I have to say it: Kansas is fucking awesome. They completely dismantled Mizzou a while back, and I was in person to view the dismemberment of my Tigers. They turned the second half into a dunk contest, thoroughly waxing our assembly of JuCo transfers and confused passers-by in jerseys. They're sick, and are my selection to win the whole thing. I make this pick, because, what the hell - the Gods of Sport have tortured me for most of college with the whole Cardinals thing, so why not pile it on for my final March here in Columbia.
My final four is kU, Florida, Georgetown and Ohio State. I know, I made a big stretch there. Really out on a limb with those three one seeds and a number two. Maybe I'm soft. Maybe I'm not. Maybe fuck off. All I know is that I'm thoroughly prepared to immerse myself in my favorite four-day sequence of the year, as you should.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

State of the Star 2007: The Bats

Much has been stated, written, re-hashed and rambled regarding the shittiness of the Houston Astros' offensive punch the past two seasons. In fact, just about the only thing said about the Astros' offense in the national media realm the past two years has been how they can't score any runs for poor Roger Clemens. How an offense so mediocre managed to win the pennant in 2005 is a testament to two things: 1) MLB has reached, and could surpass, the NFL in parity, and 2) the Astros pitching staff in 2005 will be seen as legendary in 25 years. Think about it - they went three HOF'ers deep to start the rotation, had (at the time) arguably the hottest shut-down closer in the game, and featured two workhorse set-up guys with electric stuff. Alas, this is not about the pitching of yesteryear, but the bats of today - so I digress.

The pinnacle of such offensive ineptness shone brightly on one of the few games I got to attend at the Juice Box last season: at a businessman's special weekday game closing out a series with the Cubs, Andy Pettitte opposed someone named Ryan O'Malley in his major league debut. The lightning rod that was the Stros' offense managed 5 hits, 6 walks, and 0 runs against the kid, who was back in Iowa 2 weeks later. Nice.

So the Astros responded by splashing loudly in the offseason pool. Gone is the beloved Slick Willy T, and going with him will be his low on-base percentage. Replacing him in CF (unless Hunter Pence hurdles AAA altogether, which is a distinct possibility) is Chris Burke, which will be a boost offensively, but is initially hard to decipher in terms of outfield coverage. Carlos Lee isn't the most speedy of outfielders, and Taveras would have been able to at least cloak that weak spot by shading into left a bit.

Speaking of Lee, we gave a guy $100M who was on the wrong side of 30 with bad knees and a visible belly. This does not reek of long-term financial wisdom. This signing will help this and next year, but may be an albatross reminiscent of the shoulder-impaired Bagwell years we are now exiting.

Those however, are the cons. The first of the pros are that Lance will have a proven All-Star bat to protect him in the order. Lee, like Lance, makes the players around him better by giving them more pitches to hit. Of course, if you're actually reading this, you probably don't need an asshole like me telling you this redundant, well-known fact of baseball.

Luke Scott apparently spent the offseason eating dry chicken and egg whites, hitting for hours in the cage, and doing a great deal of grunting and heavy lifts. Add that to the fact that he was a man on fire late in the year, and I need to believe in the dude. He's been given the starting job in RF to start spring training, and it will take a baaaad March in Florida + poor managerial judgement to keep him from such.

Morgan Ensberg has been a favorite of mine since he first entered the Astro realm. He had that awkward phase where he changed his batting stance every 15 minutes, showed emotion on teams that reeked of "professionalism" (i.e. - stale white guys, see: Jeff Kent), and suddenly exploded in 2005 while Lance slowly recovered from knee surgery. Because of this, watching him last season was rough on me. If Morgan bounces back, it's like doubling the Lee signing. People forget that this guy finished 4th in the NL MVP voting just two years ago - last year people in Houston wanted him maimed for his injury-induced struggles. Come back, Mo-Berg. Please.

Let me offer this preface next - Craig Biggio is an all-time, doubt-free, Texas icon and one of my favorite athletes of all time. But last season, he looked DONE. He hit .246, his worst mark since his rookie 50-game stint of 1988 (I was 3 that season). His second half was atrocious, and correspondingly, the Star picked up Mark Loretta to take some of his reps this season (as well as at SS when we inevitably get sick of Adam Everett hitting .230). Bidge needs 70 hits for 3,000, and he has more than earned the right to walk away on his own terms. His 3,000th hit will be a great moment for the city of Houston, and I'll savor watching it - hopefully in person. For the Astros to succeed this year, Craig needs to find Mr. Peabody's Way-Back machine and be the dude he was in 2004, at least. Otherwise, we may have an air of awkwardness swirling beneath our train filled with oranges.

The black hole of death returns to the bottom of our order this year. By this, of course, I mean 'defense-first' pop-out wizards Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus. Unlike most Astro fans though, I'll stop railing on their obvious offensive limitations and harp on their fine qualities - Everett saves you 1/2 a run a game on defense, and is a pleasure to watch in the field. Ausmus makes everyone he catches better. Plus, if the other guys do their jobs, they'll slide off the hook for another season when they combine to hit in the .235-.245 range.

Overall, the Star should be vastly improved offensively. So much so, that we could be a daunting lineup if Lee comes through, Mo bounces back and Luke Scott becomes a better Jason Lane. Burke will hit for more pop than Willy, and Mark Loretta is 2 years removed from hitting .335 with the Padres.

Still, so many ifs. That's why we watch, though.

Friday, March 02, 2007

State of the Star 2007: Pitching Staff

This is floundering, non-abrasive analysis, but last season truly was a mixed bag for the Astros' pitching staff. The positives were strong enough to carry what success the team did have despite their sickly offensive efforts. Roy-O (15-8, 2.98 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) would have been a worthy winner of his first Cy Young award, Rocketman (7-6, 2.30, 1.04) was a big contributor in the 2nd half when he didn't seem winded, and Dan Wheeler accepted a promotion to closer in stride when Brad Lidge looked like he was about to pitch his way out of professional baseball.

The back half of the starting rotation struggled, though. Wandy Rodriguez was afraid to throw his JV fastball anywhere near the strike zone. A revolving cast of formerly promising young arms flamed out - Taylor Buchholz (the gem of the Wagner trade) started hot but ulitmately fizzled, Jason Hirsh got a cup of coffee in the bigs and wasn't that impressive, and Fernando Nieve was more effective in the pen than as a starter. Brandon Backe, in all his adrenaline-fueled glory, needed Tommy John surgery after making a whopping 8 starts. Andy Pettitte showed signs of being himself, but ultimately had a down year and wound up remarkably mediocre. The Yankees can take him for $16 mil.

The back half of the bullpen was the most striking change than in la serie mundial season of 2005. National media and lesser informed fans will say Brad Lidge never psychologically recovered from Pujolsgate, but Astros brass and pitching minds think differently. Nolan Ryan and others cited Lidge's mechanics for most of his control problems, which caused his formerly devastating slider to sit on the outer half of the plate instead of diving into oblivion. I tend to side with this logic - Lidge was a stand-up guy throughout the whole media circus, and his ascension through baseball, overcoming several bad arm injuries, were bigger life hurdles than Al's game 5 bomb. That, and I have to believe this in order to not want to punch things.

Chad Qualls had another pretty good year, but when he was bad, it was triumphant and memorable (see: Konerko Grand Slam in June series that mirrored gut-wrenching WS blast). Trever Miller proved to be a big lefty upgrade over Mike Gallo, and will accordingly be back for 2007.

Through all this, we ended up not being all that bad. Having Roy, Roger and even a down Andy will do this, though. The Star wound up 2nd in the NL in team ERA (4.08), 4th in batting average against (.256) and 3rd in strikeouts (1160). But you don't care about that, because your Astro nerdery pales in comparison to mine. I digress.

We've got a frightening new look to the rotation in 2007. Bible-pounding lefty Andy Pettitte spurned the Astros big offer to come back, then went back to the Yanks apparently because they would include the player option for '08 that Uncle Drayton wouldn't agree to. Andy then proceeded to say that New York was where "God wanted him to be." Funny that God wanted him in Houston in 2003. I side with the Star in this matter: we got 1.5 seasons from Andy for his last deal, .75 of which were Pettitte-like. He's on the wrong side of the age wall, has arm problems, and had an ERA over 4 pitching in the NL Central last year. Enjoy those Boston and Toronto lineups, big guy. Andy's stats will likely replicate what Big Unit did for the Yanks the past 3 years, if his elbow stays pain-free.

Jason Jennings (in a contract year) was added in a swap with Colorado. We traded the beloved Willy T, Buchholz and Hirsh to get him, which basically means that if we don't get an extension worked out, the trade won't be worth it. He's tabbed as the no. 2, but he really is more of a no. 3 starter if he's on a playoff team. However, we live in an era where Jeff Suppan and Gil Meche are $50-million-plus starting arms, and the Astros still play in AAAA, I mean, the National League.

Woody Williams is 40 and won't be giving you 7 innings a start this year. Still, he was a smart signing and cost wayyyyy less than Pettitte. If he stays healthy, he's an ideal no. 4 starter; unfortunately for us, he's our #3. We'll see how this works out.

The back of the rotation is an open competition this Spring. My early money is that Wandy will win one of the jobs based on familiarity and experience alone, and that Chris Sampson nabs the last slot. I still think Nieve is more valuable as a power short-work arm in the pen, and that he could be very valuable this year considering only Roy and Jennings are innings-eaters. Matt Albers is still a kid, and may benefit from some more work in Round Rock. We saw how the Buchholz thing went last year.

Speaking of Buchholz, he was my biggest disappointment of 2006 - even moreso than Lidge or Backe. He was much-ballyhooed for the longest time, finally got to the bigs, and couldn't find the strike zone. His performace, coupled with the work of Lidge, Hirsh, and the like, led to the door being shown to pitching coach and male model Jim Hickey. Taylor's career has now found the humidifier-enhanced version of Coors Field, a.k.a. where careers go to die. The 2003 deal (Wagner for Brandon Duckworth-Buchholz-Ezequiel Astacio) that brought us that boy wonder may have been a good salary move, and it set the stage for the ascension of Lidge / acquisition of Beltran, but personnel-wise, it was one of Gerry Hunsicker's worst.

The wild card in all this, of course - the pink elephant in the room - is Roger returning. If he comes back in June or July, he makes everybody better. Jennings and Williams move to no. 3 and 4, the pen remains fresher down the stretch, and we may look like the favorites in the Central. I have no idea if he'll come back to the Astros, but getting out to a hot start wouldn't hurt. Much of that hinges on the successes of Mo-Berg, official badass Luke Scott, and festively plump cattle rancher and left fielder Carlos Lee.

A preview of the offense this weekend.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

State of the Star 2007: Astros Preview, Prologue

I've endured a large handful of hardship from Cardinal fans since I've arrived in Missouri. Permit me to provide some context here: I moved to Missouri weeks after the Carlos Beltran trade in 2004 - the weekend I moved into my apartment in Columbia, I watched the Cubs series on WGN in which Michael Barrett and Roy Oswalt got into it, thus instigating the Stros insane run to win the wild card, coupled with the Billy Goat's collapse. I had gone to the Juice Box for 20 games that summer, yet they decided to catch flames after I moved 850 miles away.

I then was forced to endure a pennant chase surrounded by inane Cardinal fans and their biased banter. Objectivity is not the forte of the casual sports fan, and these people have been no exception. Usually the breadth of most Cards' fans' knowledge is limited to rehashing how 'amazing' Albert Pujols is and explaining the value of Jeff Suppan. That year's NLCS might have been the best 7-game series that nobody ever talks about. The Game 5 showdown between Brandon Backe and now-Astro Woody Williams (i.e., The Jeff Kent Game) was one of the top 5 Astro games of all time. But, no one outside of Texas or Missouri remembers this, because it happened while the Red Sox became a Disney movie in games 4-7 against the Yankees.

Fast-forward to the 2005 NLCS, which, may I remind Cardinal fans, the Astros actually won - in six games, no less! Cardinal fans conveniently forget this fact, as I was told about the Lidge-Pujols moment roughly 78.347,172 times. Like I could ever forget the feeling of my apartment complex shaking in celebration while I watched the most painful sports moment in my entire life. Thanks, guys. By the way, Roy Oswalt closed your generic-ass, musty, bad-parking-poor-sight-lines cookie cutter Astrodome replica 2 nights later. And no, I haven't grown bitter here. Not at all.

Anyway, 2006 seemed like a wash for the Astros from the get-go. Save from Lance, the offense was anemic, with Morgan Ensberg cerca 2005 turning into Morgan Ensberg cerca 2004. Willy T, God bless him, is fun to watch but didn't get on base nearly enough. Add those two to the perennial black holes in the order named Ausmus and Everett, and even our fantasy-league-esque big three of Roy, Roger and Andy couldn't pull us out of the .500 void. That, and Brad Lidge went crazy, or something. More on him later.

Then, for a stretch of about 10 days last September, I was inebriated with feelings of disbelief and on-the-brink euphoria. After a year of lackluster offensive performances and spectacularly blown leads, the Star was surging at just the right time. That, and the Cardinals were in an epic freefall. Their once insurmountable lead crumbled from a dozen, to five, to a single game. I was checking out tie-breaker scenarios and imagining life should this collapse actually happen. I was giddy with dreams of gloating, braggodacio, and visions of rubbing in what would have been the biggest collapse in the history of baseball.

Then we went to Atlanta. Yeah, that Atlanta. The Atlanta that we had buried the past two seasons, but before that, had tortured us through the 90's during Bagwell's premo years. We may have got 6 hits all weekend, and this ended the wet dream in progress. To add further insult to this, the Cardinals beat an overrated Padres team, the pitching-free Mets, and then managed to beat the Tigers to win the World Series. Sen-fucking-sational.

The winter has been a long one, my friends. Everywhere I turn, I'm reminded of the Cardinals' most recent World Championship. The gloating of my peers has been abundant, but I've grown numb to it by now. So alas, my Astrodom has been tested in every way since I've been here, yet my allegiance is unwavering. There will be no fluctuation in my support for the mighty Astronauts, as they go about the annual rituals that take place in Kissimmee, Florida.

An overview of the offseason moves, as well as a look to '07 to come.

Friday, February 16, 2007

ESPN is Bamboozling You

Note - This isn't a commentary about the Amaechi story, it's about ESPN's circumstances surrounding it. I wouldn't want to stop anyone from buying it out of desire to read 'Man in the Middle,' and in fact, it's gotten great reviews from places like Had to throw that disclaimer in there.

The Worldwide Leader, despite spurning me recently in my efforts to acquire an internship with them, have been my surrogate family for the better part of two decades. One of their family of networks is essentially all I watch on television - which has, sadly, been the case for most of my time here on this planet. Bill Simmons has evolved into my favorite sportswriter (save your cynicism, I still enjoy his work despite his rampant popularity), and closely trailing him are mainstays Len Pasquerelli, Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian and Chad Ford. I listen to Mike and Mike in the morning on the way to class/work, and Dan Patrick in the afternoons when possible. So take this for what it's worth - it's not an absolute seige of Big Bristol.

This being said, they have slowly evolved into an amorphous, conglomerate blob of a sports news monopoly since Disney/ABC purchased their souls several years back. The increase in fluffy feature pieces on SportsCenter was digestible, but delivering a quasi-cloaked marketing campaign for Disney-sport-flicks (i.e., The Rookie, Miracle, etc.) has become the status quo. They've tried slapping ESPN's name on a litany of shit: from restaurants to video games. Some of this has made Michael Eisner more money, some has not.

This week, the John Amaechi story has gotten fresh legs since ESPN personality Dan LeBatard evoked caveman-jock-speak from Tim Hardaway regarding the situation. What does this have to do with anything, you may ask? Well, Amaechi's story has been put into book form, and is being produced by... of course! ESPN books. Allow me to run down the various list of items I found interesting in this dynamic.

1. Amaechi's story becomes public, drawing attention primarily just from ESPN's coverage of such a revelation.
2. The NBA and general public's collective yawn lets the story settle.
3. ESPN clamors for any sort of virulent reaction from an NBA personality.
4. LeBatard reveals Hardaway's idiocy.
5. Debate about gay athletes gets new legs, as book is readied for release.
6. This is all happening during the slowest sports month of the year - the time between the Super Bowl and March Madness.

ESPN is aware of its monopoly status is currently holds on national sports news in this country. Don't think that they, combined with the colossus that is Disney, won't put that to use to get you to buy shit. I'm just sayin'.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Playa Hater's Ball: Super Bowl XLI

At this juncture in my life, I don't see myself as a pessimist anymore. My unbridled cynicism has infested every aspect of my being. Pessimist is far too soft a label for a hater of my stature. We have reached the point where I can't help but find the negative aspects of even my favorite things in this world; i.e., the Super Bowl.

It's America's quintessential national holiday - a time when family and friends get together, eat fattening snack foods, down several alcohol-infused beverages, and gather around a glowing piece of metal to watch hundreds of ploys for you to buy shit you don't need. And there's some kind of football game of large significance being played - but half the people watching could care less. This inevitably leads to inane questioning and bitching of monumental proportions by those not immersed in pro pigskin - and, correspondingly, great agitation of people like myself, who wonder why the hell we went to a party to watch this game with these people, knowing damn well that a six-pack, batch of chicken wings and a closed door with the game would bring us more joy.

At this time I would like to redirect your attention to the negative sides of this year's festivities. This year has brought us sensational parity in the NFL. By parity, I mean bad quarterback play, poor decision making and a lot of three-and-outs. The big game pits the embattled Colts against the tradition-heavy Chicago Bears, in a showdown sure to make Sprint, Gatorade, MasterCard, the NFL shop, and a myriad of other Peyton product pitchers salivate.

I bring to you an open vent, teeming with frustration and disgusting over-analysis. The following are 5 storylines you will be tired of in two weeks, after they have been incessantly bashed into your skull by the media powers that be:

1) Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy are great friends.
Remember the Herm Edwards - Tony Dungy snugglefest that we were treated to in the wild card round? Imagine that, ad nauseam, times 3450 this week. I expected all-out man groping at the end of that game after the fluffy sideline reporters' pieces about those two lovebirds. Now, let's dissect this same storyline, again and again, only now all the media outlets who DON'T cover sports 355 days a year can get in on the act, too.
My realistic hope is that the friendship aspect takes a back seat to the fact that these two men are the first African-American coaches in the history of the NFL to make it to the Super Bowl. This is a big moment in the history of the league, and should be treated as such. No sarcasm there, just keeping it real.

2) Peyton gets the monkey off his back
Well, not quite. My early pick is the Indianapolis Peytons in this game, but we'll be treated to 'he doesn't have the big win' angles for another X amount of seasons if he goes Marino on us and loses in 2 weeks. Unlike most of the country, I DIDN'T want to see him beat Captain America and Coach Obi Wan in the AFC title game. Why? Because the Peyton Manning face brings me great joy. His reaction after Logan Mankins fell on that loose ball in the end zone was the best laugh I had all week. Please don't take that away from me, football gods. A relieved, smiling Peyton isn't nearly as entertaining as a laser-armed ball of frustration.

3) Can the Bears win in spite of Grossman?
Oh, Rextasy. Your monumental douchebaggery cost me many a fantasy game this season. Now, after leading 'On The Clock' to a staggering 4-9 mark, you've gone and rode your great defense through a weak NFC all the way to the promised land. I'd like to think that The Sex Cannon (name credit - KissingSuzyKolber sports blog), who looked like a 4-year old who lost his Mommy in the mall at the end of the first half Sunday, would be inept enough to fold under pressure, but the guy is just as likely to throw a tipped-touchdown pass to Berrian. And no, the Bears can't win in spite of Grossman. They'll need a solid effort from him if they expect to win big XLI.

4) The Colts D was crap in the regular season
And now, they're... well, less crappy. Bob Sanders is making himself into the biggest difference maker in the league at safety for the way his presence has changed the persona of the Colts defense the past three weeks. If it were up to our instant-oatmeal-society ESPN analysts, we would send him to Canton right now. We also would have put Tony Romo somewhere between Staubach and Aikman the day after Thanksgiving, though, and you know how that turned out. My circumvented point is that Sanders turns the Colts defense from horrible to slightly below average, and that will probably be enough to slow down Rextasy and the Bears' solid running game.

5) Prince: too risque for halftime?
This is for the Fox Newses of the world. Who cares? I'm 22, not 32. Prince is before my time, and I've never claimed to be big on old school jams. My best memory of Prince was the time Charlie Murphy and I got our asses handed to us at his crib playing basketball. I say we bring Janet back, nipple clips and all.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go serve Harris, Jennings, and Wideman pancakes.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Picks Destined to Fail, Division Round Edition

Holy cover-2 zone, Batman! It's the greatest weekend of the NFL season, and to my giddy, girlish delight we've got the top-4 seeds in each conference still around for the party. As an adamant anti-Dallas personality, I'm also pleased that the Cowgirls are not going to be featured on my television screen this week. As for Tony Romo, what can I say that hasn't been said, printed or left in a threatening / taunting voicemail. I honestly felt bad for the guy last weekend, but at the same time, another week of the Cowboys means another week of T.O., and I need to hear that man's voice about as much as John Mellencamp's at this point.

I'm not going to write that much here, because, well, I'm not getting paid to write this. But as a man of my word, here's one man's analysis of the next two glorious days of playoff football (home teams in CAPS):

Colts 23, RAVENS 26
Peyton's happy feet last week against KC had to have the Ravens salivating. It's getting to the point where you just cannot pick Peyton Manning and/or Tony Dungy in January. They got bailed out last week by a coach unwilling to waver from a game plan everyone in the building knew they would stick to when Herm Edwards decided to run right into 8 and 9 man fronts on every possession. By the way, If Hermanation would have gone play action earlier, and starting using his bigger tight ends against a small Colts secondary, the Chiefs would have avoided the epic stink bomb they dropped last week. See: what they did on their ONE good drive, and my post before the game. By the way, this prediction is rendered void should Kyle Boller be seen on the playing field at any time.

Pats 31, BOLTS 16
I'm banking on Marty slipping into trademark, classic Marty mode, clamming up when Belichick stacks the line to take away LT, and refusing to turn Rivers (in his first playoff game) loose until it's too late. Mr. Brady has become more comfortable with his WEAK recieving core, and the Pats' defense may actually be their best in 5 years.

Eagles 22, SAINTS 31
I'm not ready to see the beautiful Saints' story die. Colston is healthy again, and Lito Sheppard is out - I think Brees will light it up.

Seahawks 12, BEARS 16
I think the Bears can win this game, even with a space cadet at quarterback. The weather will be awful in Chicago, and I can't see a Lovie Smith team, at home, with an extra week to prepare, losing to a very mediocre Seahawk club.

John Mellencamp 4,872, JRAY -12

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'm Not Talking About Steroids After This

It's an unfortunate reality that Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken got less publicity in the national sports media this week than their tainted contemporary, Mark McGwire. The former two's inductions into the Hall of Fame, though, are really just a preview of the next 15 years of what is already a nauseating, tired debate about performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports.

I'm going under the working assumption that McGwire, along with a colossal amount of his peers in professional baseball, did use steroids in the 80's and 90's. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive. You're also naive if you think it still is not going on today - sports science will always be several steps ahead of the press, the government, and organizational bodies that have jurisdictive power in such matters. There is no test in existance that can detect the presence of human growth hormone (HGH), so who's to say that it's not being used by athletes? Bodybuilders have been singing its praises for years. And don't think because YOU haven't heard of the hot new works-too-well illegal enhancer, Pro Baller A hasn't. It's part of his line of work - he has.

Just as kids will find new ways to get high, drug dealers will find new methods of cooking and slinging product, and so on, people will always be seeking a competitive edge. It's the product of a competitive world - addiction, money, winning, whatever - is more important to many people than the perception people have of them.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a sucker for the endearing tradition of baseball. I love it. Two summers ago, when I took my kid brother to the Negro League HOF/museum in Kansas City, it was one of the best days of my life. I savor the stuff. But honestly, if I'm a retired pro jock, living off interest and playing golf everyday, whether or not a bunch of stodgy sportswriters think I'm worthy to be in their club wouldn't be significant to me. These people sit on their high horses as moral police, judging whether it's righteous or not to use steroids in order to get an edge. Phrases like "they cheated the fans" never have resonance with me, because if you're a sports fan, and you're dull enough to put a dude who runs a 40 exceptionally fast, or can throw a baseball 95 MPH on an idolic pedestal, that'd be a YOU problem.

"Cheating the game" is another trite sportswriter's phrase found when no real substance is present. The truth is, guys like McGwire, Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi, and the like, used at a time when their competition was using, as well. Granted, not everyone was using, but they had the option to since it was not against the rules of the game. To me, that's not "cheating the game." If that's the case, then anything that one player has access to that another doesn't would be cheating. Where does this slope take us? Timed film analysis before NFL games? Equivocal training facilities and staff for every NBA franchise? Imagine this exchange:

League official: "Hey, Coach Belichick, we at the office got word that you have developed several different schemes to slow down LT this weekend. In the interest of fairness, we're going to need you to share those with the other 31 franchises."

"Cheating the game" is the pitcher scuffing the baseball with an emory board, or an NBA player missing shots to cover a spread, or a quarterback intentionally getting picked off. By giving a disingenuous effort, or using something against the rules to gain leverage on the opposition is to cheat the game, or cheat the fans. I'm not trying to advocate or support steroid use, pre-or-post baseball legislation, I just believe that morally chastising people is ridiculous, and is done to an obscene extent in the media. Who are we to throw stones? Strategic or personnel decisions in sports can be ridiculed for their implications on franchises or programs - but to evaluate PEOPLE is a path I choose not to tread on.

All that being said, I wouldn't take steroids into account, ever, when judging whether or not to vote a player into Cooperstown. We don't know who did and didn't do it, and frankly, I don't care. The damage has been done already to the sport, and the black eye is one that will never subside.

The Hall of Fame is built to reflect the history of the game, and to accurately reflect that history, an era that was loaded with juicers should have its greatest enshrined, too. Let's not teach American baseball history the way that most schools in America teach American history - by picking and choosing it's finer moments, and shunning the negative ones. Denial and lies are always worse than accepting fault.

Now, for McGwire: the man was never an MVP. He won a gold glove, but the legitimacy of that award is growing more and more suspect each year - the thing is given out on almost reputation alone, and half the time isn't handed to the best defensive player. It sounds sexy to say "he won X gold gloves," but to me, the thing is like a Grammy given to a rap artist: the guy with the biggest name gets an award given out by a disconnected board of judges.

He also was a career .263 hitter, but makes up for that some with his .394 OBP. His homer totals are impressive, but 15 years from now, he may not be in the top 12 all time anymore. Thome, A-Rod, Manny and Griffey will all pass him within 5 years in all likelihood. His career was plagued by injuries, but he still managed to (obviously) hit a ton of home runs. He had minimal speed, and was basically a one-trick pony. It was a hell of a trick, though.

I didn't lose respect for him because of 'roids, I lost respect for him because he acted like a little bitch on Capitol Hill. Despite this, I would have elected him this year. For one, he would have to deal with the pressures of addressing a hostile crowd, something he cried trying to do in front of congress. And two, I wouldn't have to listen to this same debate next year, and for the next 10 years, as self-righteous writers bicker about the morality of steroids.

Football picks tomorrow.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Playoffs!??! Picks Bound to Fail, sponsored by Jim Mora, Sr.

Wild card weekend is upon us, and I'd like to take a moment to list the NFC teams who have a snowball's chance in Hell at entertaining me mildly this weekend. ... That deafening silence you hear from the peanut gallery is the collective yawn of America when looking at the Seabags-Cowboys and Philly-Giants matchups. Hooray, Parity!

Each of these teams are inherently flawed, with the Eagles showing the most promise out of the group. That being said, I'm a big McNabb guy, and will be openly rooting against the success of Jeff Garcia this postseason, due to the fallout that a Super Bowl appearance may inflict on the perennially underrated Chunky Soup pitchman.

The Chiefs-Colts game is the matchup I personally am looking forward to the most. The obvious plotline is LJ wreaking havoc on the Colts run defense, but the real question will be if Trent Green can get Tony Gonzalez heavily involved in the passing game against an undersized Indy secondary. Peyton Manning knows he has to basically play a perfect game, every game, if he's going to get to Miami this year, and I'm banking on 4 TD's from him tomorrow against a very average KC pass defense. The Chiefs can't match that with the ground game alone, and though ball control is the primary focus of their offensive game plan, they'll need to go deep on play action a time or two if they expect to win this one.

Here are one man's predictions for the Wild Card round, home team in caps:
Chiefs 31, COLTS 34
Dallas 24, SEATTLE 27
Giants 19, PHILLY 27
Jets 13, PATS 31

The NFL has been so unpredictable all season, that I thought I would drop a little reverse psychology on the games this week. You hear that, NFL? I'm calling your bluff! Favorites outright, in a microcasm of what I think will be a bit of a dull experience this weekend. This league has to get predictable eventually, right?? RIGHT!??!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006: The Airing of Grievances

The year 2006 was a landmark year in terms of the ineptitude of my favorite sports entities. Allow me to piss and moan about the past 12 months, award-show style, as I hand out trophies to the people and franchises who disappointed me the most. Don't worry, the list is lengthy, and fueled by a deep resentment toward those celebrating, oh, I don't know, world series victories.

My Britney Spears cerca 1998 Tease of the Year award goes to the Houston Astros, for their quasi-inspired play for the majority of the season, followed by their now customary late season stomp toward the playoffs. In 10 fantastic, unbelievable days, the 'Stros went from finished to on the brink of winning the NL Central, thanks to what would have been the biggest collapse in baseball history by the Cards. The possibility of this happening turned me into a giddy schoolgirl just imagining the possibility of reveling in 1) my own sense of elation and 2) the misery of the annoying Cardinal fans I endure here in Missouri. But predictably, the Astros couldn't capitalize on the Redbirds' mediocrity, and hit like 4th graders in the last series of the season against Atlanta.

The Cardinals then rode their clear wave of momentum through the mediocre NL in the playoffs, then defeated a Detroit Tiger team whose pitching staff forgot how to play defense. Don't get in a tissy, Cardinal fan, your team won, and you reserve the right to be smarmy as champions. Congratulations. On a positive note, I was privvied to seeing a roided-up Kenny Rogers, who shouted maniacally and doctored baseballs to everyone's enjoyment.

The Houston Rockets get no awards this year, since I'm not entirely sure they played in the past 12 months. Injuries have rendered our promising roster hapless, while we stand in the now monumental shadows of the hated Mavs, Spurs, and Suns, who will undoubtedly duke it out in the West Finals for the next three years. Tracy McGrady will officially be known as T-Back to me until his injury problems subside and he proves to me that he hasn't come down with Grant Hill syndrome. On the other hand, Yao Ming made fantastic advances in his game when he was healthy. While continuing to improve an already stellar jumpshot and swift turnaround moves, he is playing the game with a swagger that was absent in his first few years in Houston.

None of this matters to anyone I get to talk to on a daily basis, though, because the only thing they remember about Yao is Nate Robinson blocking him in a game a month ago. They ignore the fact that Nate fouled him on the play, Yao destroyed the Knicks that night, and the Rockets won the game. Of course, seven people at Mizzou follow the NBA, so I probably shouldn't invest much in most of their opinions, anyway.

The Inaugural Tarek Tabbara "Reeaalllyyyy?" Award goes to Mizzou Football, who perplexed fans in ways we didn't know were possible over the course of the season. Was it the Tecmo Bowl-style running game, featuring no more than three running plays? The playcalling brilliance of Coach Pinkel - which included gems like running 4-WR shotgun, spread packages inside the opponents' 2-yard line? Or was it the way they were admittedly robbed by officials against juggernaut Iowa State? No, the "Really??" moment of the year came during the Sun Bowl, when, after witnessing the team blow another late lead, I really wasn't that shocked or disappointed. I have grown to expect letdown as a Mizzou fan.

The Frank Costanza Grievance of the Year Award goes to everyone's favorite insignificant NFL franchise, the Houston Texans. This year really was a constant exercise in frustration and 'WTF-ism' for anyone with brain activity who was either forced or compelled to follow this team. Our consolation prize for the Hindenburg-like disaster of 2005 was winning the number one pick in the draft. The Texans, when presented the options of two Heisman winners (Bush and Leinart), hometown hero and state icon Vince Young, or trading the pick down in order to get more pieces to help the team, went with the only logical choice: a defensive end with half of a productive season under his belt.

I'd like to thank the Texans for this, because as my Columbia acquaintances' embassador to the city of Houston, I was given the opportunity to rationalize this decision to countless football fans, drunk males, and various fucktards over the course of the year. Meanwhile, the Darth Vader of my youth, Bud Adams, who moved my beloved Oilers to Tennessee when I was a kid, drafted Vince Young, who promptly urinated all over the Texans at Reliant Stadium in his first visit to the H as a pro. Vince left the field screaming, "THIS IS MY CITY!" and pounding his chest after his 40-yard touchdown scamper beat the Texans in OT. Coach Kubes' inaugural campaign was littered with injuries, but the team did show promise, tripling the win output of last year by going 6-10. Most depressing statistic: this 6-win total was one win shy of our franchise best.

This sums up the grievances I had during the past 12 months. It's not that everything sucks, though, my friends, it's just more fun to complain about these things in a joking matter in this format. Now, I must put the Festivus Pole back in the crawl space.

Football is way more entertaining than real life

An orgasmic, gluttonous day of football watching was capped off tonight by one of the 10 best football games I feel I've ever seen. My OU and Big XII ties had me pulling for the favored Sooners (I should say the David-versus-Goliath, or call them 'big dogs,' since those two trite analogies were RELENTLESSLY POUNDED into my brain by Cliche Kingpin and lovable dwarf Thom Brennaman), but as Mr. Carter says, "Real recognizes real." Boise State proved that they are, in fact, realer than we all believed.

Bronco quarterback and obvious toolbox Jared Zabransky managed to spearhead a ridiculous touchdown drive to tie the game in the final minute of regulation, despite his Vanderjagt earring and bad tattoos. The game will serve as fantastic fodder for people to bitch about this sport not having an actual post-season with merit. I can't worry about that now, though, because I'm still aflutter from the insanity that took place in Phoenix tonight.

Twelve hours of college football taught me alot today. I learned that Carmen Electra digs scraggly, unkempt men who are fond of 1.99 burritos. Ford apparently likes to live on the edge, and features an amazing new car that can drive on rooftops. I also wondered how much money Will.I.Am has banked off the liscensing to "Let's Get Retarded/It Started," which, under FCC regulations, must be featued in 1 out of every 12 advertisements. Altogether, now: "THIS IS OURRRR COUNTRRRRYYYY." Excuse me, I'm going to go shove a golf tee into my inner ear.

Sadly, and obviously, the joy of today was tempered by the sad death of Denver Bronco CB Darrent Williams. To me, the loss is another example of alcohol and egoes exploding in senseless violence. Happy New Year everybody!