And make you want to run away."
So the Super Bowl is done, and now, we enter a month and a half long black hole heading into Championship Week for NCAA basketball. What are we going to do in the meantime? Well, for me, at least I still have the Bruins and the Celts, and they're both coming back to form. The Celts have been rolling since their latest regular season loss at Cleveland, winning twelve in a row. The B's have been red hot, and that was without three of their best four forwards for almost a month (Lucic, Kessel, Bergeron). They have been occupying the top spot in the Eastern Conference for almost the entire season, and they show no signs of letting up with studs all over the ice, including a potential Norris (Chara) and Vezina (Thomas) winners.
Well, if you're not into that kind of thing, you're totally screwed. Nah, I'm kidding...kind of. Well, this weekend will be kind of barren. The Pro Bowl is on Sunday, which of course is precluded by the skills competition, which may include one of the most intriguing contests that happens in any All-Star event, the H-O-R-S-E-like contest between the AFC and NFC kicking representatives (there have been epic matches between Vinatieri and Akers in the past; unfortunately, this year is Gostkowski against Carney, which I think will be a landslide victory for Gostkowski). Outside of that, the only reason to watch the game itself is Wes Welker. Finally, Wes is in the Pro Bowl. I was getting worried after last year that no matter what he did, he would never make it to Hawaii, and he almost didn't make it again this year! He had 110+ receptions two years in a row! Of course I'm a huge homer, but seriously, is there anyone on Earth that does not like Wes Welker? How can you not like the guy? Wes will be the reason I'm watching, so you're welcome NBC. Also, how can they possibly move the Pro Bowl not only from Hawaii to Miami, but make it a week before the Super Bowl? Does Goddell and the others in the NFL who make these decisions realize that, usually, the teams that get a bunch of Pro-Bowlers tend to wind up in the Super Bowl, which means they won't be playing in an exhibition a week before the game? This is completely pointless. Does the NFL really believe that they are going to get more people watching and attending this game if they have it before the Super Bowl? I'm telling you, it's not happening. Honestly, if they are that worried about getting money for this game, they should just get rid of it altogether. If it is getting to this point, then just name the All-Pro team and be done with it.
(Hi...it's Sunday, and I was re-reading my column and figuring out who won the kicking H-O-R-S-E contest, ummm, guess what? They actually disbanded the skills contest two years ago, and I guess I was so distraught from last year's Super Bowl that I hadn't even noticed they did away with it...in other words, you can pretty much ignore the last paragraph)
Speaking of H-O-R-S-E (not to tangent too much), but they are finally having the event at the NBA's All-Star Weekend, which is something that the USC Intramural refs and I had been discussing almost three years ago. No dunks, and there is a 24-second clock...other than that, anything goes! Now the event itself will definitely depend on who is in it and what kind of imagination they have. If they get Kobe, Lebron, and Dwayne Wade, then obviously, people are going to watch it, but I think we have to be realistic in thinking that will not happen. So, who will be there that could be potentially a good fit for the game? Well, there will be three, so my picks will be Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant, and O.J. Mayo. I think that would be pretty intriguing. Plus, they're not really doing anything that day anyway, and they're there, why not give them something to do? Also, this is a trio of budding stars that are all under 25. That will help get the younger viewers interested. Once the field get announced for all the events, I will be making my picks just like the NHL Skills Contest.
(Random Sidenote: I just found out that H-O-R-S-E will be replaced by G-E-I-C-O...this is the dumbest thing I have heard of in quite some time. I understand the need for corporate sponsorships, but this is silly...Michael Wilbon came out on "PTI" and said that they could have gone with "H-O-R-S-E presented by Geico," which I think makes a hell of a lot more sense.)
The actual All Star Game will feature three Celtics now, as Ray Allen was just named as an injury replacement for Jameer Nelson. Obviously, I'm a big Ray Allen guy. I was one of the few that were championing that draft day trade when they acquired Allen, and have been able to have a bunch of good laughs at everyone who doubted it. However, I have a problem with Allen getting the nod in this instance. First of all, if a point guard gets hurt, wouldn't you want to replace him with another point guard? Am I crazy, or wouldn't you want to replace the guy with another player who plays the same position? I mean Orlando is likely going to have to do that on their own team, so I would have thought that the NBA would have had a little more sense than that. Also, if we're talking Celtics, what happened to Rajon Rondo's name? He has emerged as one of the best point guards in the league, and yet continues to get absolutely no publicity at all. Rondo should have been there, and Mo Williams should have been named a reserve regardless of any injured player. To only have one Cav on the team is kind of a joke to me. They have one of the best records in the Eastern Conference, and yet only have one representative? Really? I think that team is far more dangerous now because of the addition of Williams, and he should be commended as such.
The Daytona 500 is coming up not this Sunday, but next Sunday, and marks the first official race of the season for NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson looks to win an unprecedented fourth straight championship, but he is going to have a gigantic bulls-eye on his back all year long. See, at least even two years ago, we were discussing other drivers to be in Johnson's field, whether it be Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Junior, or someone else. Now though, Johnson is in a class by himself. He's #1, and there's a huge gap to the second spot. While that is probably the biggest question on the docket so far, there are definitely others that NASCAR fans will be watching closely:
- Tony Stewart, The Owner: Stewart, based on ability alone, is a Cup contender every year. However, now that he is the owner of Haas CNC Racing, he has an entirely different set of responsibilities in addition to racing a full schedule. Stewart will welcome in Ryan Newman, last year's Daytona winner. With Newman, and a cast of talent in the pits from all over the circuit, Haas Racing has enormous potential, but it could be a bumpy ride to get to that point. While a need for another competitive team is definitely needed, it doesn't always work out. Outside of Hendrick, Penske, Gibbs, Roush/Fenway, and DEI, it has been increasingly difficult for new teams to be able to sustain any long-term success in the Cup series. While Stewart and Newman are not only experienced, but quite good, it will be challenging for the two of them to step out of their comfort zone of having mega-teams funding them and starting up a new enterprise.
- Joey Logano: Probably the most touted rookie perhaps in the history of NASCAR, Logano, who is still just 18 years old, made a huge splash last year on the Nationwide Series, and will be filling in for the aforementioned Tony Stewart in the Gibbs #20 Toyota this season. Logano has some huge shoes to fill, as Stewart was the reigning "captain" of one of the best and most successful teams in NASCAR last year. Considering the kind of poise he showed last year, I think that he will be able to find his groove fairly early on. I really think he could end the season close to the top 15. Sure, he hasn't played with the big boys yet, but sometimes, you can kind of tell if a guy is going to be able to survive at the next level despite maybe not having the kind of experience other rookies may have. Not saying he will be anything like this, but when LeBron was playing high school ball...you knew. I mean you just knew that this kid was going to be a star. He was able to handle all the pomp and circumstance that went along with being "the next Jordan." I'm not saying the kid will win The Chase, but I think he will be exceptional pretty much right from the get-go.
- How Will The Economy Affect NASCAR?: It has been talked about at length, but this is still a huge story. NASCAR fans are probably amongst the most allegiant fans in all of American sports, but even their fandom will be put to the test amidst the current recession. Considering the NBA has seen an attendance drop already, NASCAR has the highest average ticket price of any of the major sports, and the majority of NASCAR's fans are middle class, working folk who may have had their jobs taken away from them, I am going to be real curious as to what kind of numbers the first few races will bring in. Obviously, I am hopeful that the fans are able to make it to the race, but the sign of the times is saying that it may not happen like that.
And now for something I absolutely love talking about...the Yankees' downfalls. A report today was broken by SI that claims that A-Rod tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2003, the year he led the majors in homers and won the MVP with Texas. I'm going to go ahead and say that, outside of the Teixeira signing, this could be the worst offseason ever for the Yankees. While they were able to lower their payroll, they did sign a pitcher with no postseason success (Sabathia), a pitcher who can't stay healthy (Burnett), they have a city assemblyman who has accused the Yankees and the city of New York of working secretly together to get additional funding for the new stadium (Richard Brodsky), a former manager who leveled against the entire organization (Joe Torre), and now, their best player has been reported to have once used steroids...and they still have no bullpen! What a great way to go into a season and into a new building. I almost am at the point of feeling bad for them...no seriously. They are kind of pathetic now.
Also, there was a bunch of talk, as there is every year, about making a salary cap in baseball. I don't understand this at all. Does anyone realize that once the Yanks hit $100 million for their cap, they have not won a World Series title? Furthermore, there is a luxury tax in place, meaning that for every dollar that a team goes over a certain threshold, the money goes into a revenue sharing pool that gets dispersed to all the other teams...so why would we want a cap in baseball? Time after time, it is proven that it's about the team you assemble, and not about how much money you spend, that wins titles. Personally, I love the current system. If anything, there should be a salary cap on how little you spend, a salary floor if you will. Think about it though. If teams were forced to spend a certain amount, they would be able to re-sign their young talent, which the lower-spending teams rely on, to long-term deals that would keep a level of parity in baseball. If a team can't spend $50 million on their team, then they really should consider moving (Florida Marlins, I'm talking to you). Every other team was at least in the vicinity of the $50 million mark last year, with Tampa, Oakland, and Pittsburgh all within $7 million of that mark. The floor should be based on inflation factors and on amounts of money given to each team through different revenue streams, whether it be TV, advertisement, luxury tax, or any other amounts that they take in through being a part of Major League Baseball. The bottom line is, yes, I root for a team that has had a top-5 payroll for over a decade, but I have also worked for a minor league franchise of a team that spends less than that $50 million figure, and I can tell you first-hand that these players are being rushed through the minor league system. If you have the players situated at the top level, it will allow more of a development for a team's top prospects in the system.
(Another Random Sidenote: The last regular season MVP to also win a World Series was Kirk Gibson with the Dodgers back in 1988.)
Sorry, but I have to get back to the A-Rod story. This could be the come all, be all of the steroid stories. First, it was Canseco's book, then it was Lance Armstrong, then it was Barry Bonds, then it was the McGwire/Sosa/Palmeiro implications from their testimonies in front of Congress, but this is something totally different. Rodriguez was thought to be the one "clean" guy who was hitting all of his homers. I have heard a lot of people come out now and say "well, I knew he was on something the whole time." Really? Where have you been then? Pretty much nothing of that nature had been reported prior to these recent allegations, and when they did drop, I would say that the majority of the baseball world and the general public was somewhat taken back by all of this. Sure, everyone hated him, but it wasn't because he juiced up. Rather, it was because he was an ass___e. He was incredibly easy to dislike purely because of how he handled himself, but even then, you had to respect his talents. He was knocking out homers, hitting over .300, stealing 20-30 bases a year...he was arguably the best player in the game (it took me awhile to come around to it, but even I was on board with the idea that he was #1). Because of the way he is viewed though, people are going to put his head on the chopping block because of this positive test. In addition to how he is viewed, he had vehemently denied in the past that he ever used. Here's another example of a guy who, had he admitted to using it in the past, and has since stopped using, his image, while it would have obviously been tainted to a degree, would still not have taken the hit that it is about to now. Here are two classic examples of what happens when you admit and when you let it drag on:
- Jason Giambi: He was named in the BALCO scandal. Once the allegations hit in the press, he came out and apologized for what he did. While he did not specifically admit to exactly what he was sorry about...you knew. Still, he was able to continue playing ball after his admission of guilt. Now when he comes up to the plate, you don't necessarily think about when he was using. You're pretty much thinking about his ridiculous mustache, and that's about it.
- Pete Rose: While there was an exponential amount of evidence against him betting on baseball, he denied and denied and denied it. Rose was banned from baseball, and he still denied it. Then, after years and years of denial, a book deal came along that potentially would save him financially, he finally buckled and admitted to it. Now, he's relegated to signing balls saying "I'm sorry I bet on baseball, -Pete Rose." This is a guy who holds the career mark in hits by a huge margin, and was one of the greatest hitters of all time. Now, he's just a pathetic figure, a ghost of sports past.
Well, that's about all I have for right now. The NFL season is over, so make sure to watch for some mock drafts that I will be compiling from now until that fateful day in April. Plus, I've been able to do a bunch of fantasy baseball mock drafts, and I think that there are a ton of sleepers and a ton of guys off the radar that you will be able to scoop up in the latter rounds, so I'll be posting those as well. The sports news may be coming at a slower pace than what we've been used to these past months, but I will be commenting on whatever is going on in the world of sports as it happens. Take care everyone. Peace.