And a good day to you's. Sure, it only took six months or so for me to write a column. I have to be totally honest with you, I am exhausted from working, and it seems like that and my wanting to kind of check out the scenery as it were has taken away from my writing, which was a huge part of my life for like three years. In any event, I'm going to do what I can to update this a lot more frequently, because I'm feeling like this is a kind of time capsule for me. It's funny to look back at everything I was thinking about in like '06. Some of it I really like, and some of it I'm kind of wishing I could do-over. In any event, it's nice to take it all in, and also, I'm almost at an annoying level of sports talk with literally everyone I meet, so maybe if I displace some of that here, I won't have to trouble complete strangers with my opinions about John Lackey.
Well you have to start with the NFL. In case your reading this at any other point in time, the divisional phase of the playoffs just ended with a "shocker" in San Diego, with those exceedingly pesky Jets taking out the Bolts 17-14. I say shocker in quotes (and also throwing up air quotes...just because) because if you break it on down, is this really that surprising? Sure, the Chargers were on an absolute tear, but the Jets were, on the low, playing equally as impressive. After their loss to the Pats (let's face it, they had absolutely no chance of winning at Foxboro given their first encounter), NY won six of seven heading into this game, including two drubbings of Cincy. Also, consider this: #1 defense, #1 run attack...I'm pretty sure these kind of things went overlooked when everyone (including myself) penciled in SD for not only the AFC Championship game, but the Super Bowl as well. The problem was this: San Diego did the same thing...again. Ugh. San Diego is on an early 2000s Indy-like run of dominating in the regular season consistently. and yet finding absolutely no one to step up outside of Philip Rivers (say anything you want about that guy, after the '08 AFC Championship game where he basically played on one leg, that guy is a warrior and a big-time player). What is it about those green and white uni's that shakes Nate Kaeding so much? Twice?...Really?...Yabba habba.
Okay, let's talk about the winners though. Yes, I know...it's the Jets. People of the red, white, and blue (and occasionally silver) persuasion are not suppose to go on about this team...so, sorry in advance...but I really really like the way this team is built. It all starts at the top with Rex Ryan. I love this guy, I don't even care if it's wrong. You need that kind of coach in Jersey. He is seemingly fearless (except about Peyton Manning, which could be an issue), he's almost goofy in his postgame press conferences, he's enstilling an old-school type of play/attitude/demeanor...he's simply good for the game. The league has been dying for some kind of enigmatic coach, especially when you consider the other new coaches that have graced us with their presence (oh Jim Caldwell...it's never good when most NFL fans think you're not actually coaching your own team). Ryan also made the genius move of trimming the Jets' playbook for the Sanchise (or is it Sanchize?...just trying to cover my tracks there), i.e. run the s___ out of the ball. They had three above average RB's to start, then there was the question of Shonn Greene's playing time at the beginning of the season, then Leon Washington got hurt...all of a sudden, it wasn't so much of an issue. Consider this as well: Has one player ever played with a continuous chip on his shoulder longer than Thomas Jones? It comes to a point when you honestly wonder what a guy has to do to get any kind of attention/love/respect? He's had five straight 1,000 yard seasons (and the year before that string, he rushed for 946), he simply looks frightening, and has not shown really any signs of letting down. Still though, he remains sort of in limbo not only in his public perception (that being he should be an RB you bring up within the first five-to-six names instead of not bringing him up altogether), but even on his own team, where he has basically lost his starting job to a rookie (a very...very good rookie at that) despite running for a career-high 1402 yards this year. This has always kind of puzzled me...kind of like the opposite of what Donovan McNabb has going on (Jones has always had the local respect, but not national, whereas McNabb is loved by everyone outside a 100-mile radius of the Yuengling factory...inside...not so much). Also, despite having three Pro-Bowlers on the left side of the line, is there any more under-appreciated line than the Jets? They are one of a very few teams that can put their five guys in the trenches, and they have almost assured themselves the best possible five linemen they could have possibly had by now. They drafted Mangold, D'Brick, and Brandon Moore, signed Faneca and Woody...I mean maybe you could argue about right guard and Moore, but that's such a sound unit.
The thing I like most, and that I've always like the most about the Jets has been the phenomenon known as "Revis Island." There has yet to be any receiver that Darelle Revis can't defend. Big guys (Jackson today), little guys (Steve Smith)...it's just domination. How much are the Jets not looking forward to the time when Revis becomes a free agent (likely two years away)? The best two shut-down guys that I ever saw was Champ Bailey and Prime Time in his prime...time...Revis is hands down better...hands down better than both of them. He's in his third year. How is that even possible? For one man to literally blanket every great receiver that plays this game at a professional level, with many of them being the elite at what they do? Just phenomenal stuff. A Wayne/Revis matchup is intriguing to me. I don't believe Wayne will be able to overcome Revis, which sets up two possibilities: The Colts go a bunch to Dallas Clark, or the Colts don't go a bunch to Dallas Clark...and they get knocked the freak out (Dallas Clark will have a big game I guess is the main bullet point there). In any event, isn't it fascinating that all these prolific college return men are translating very well at the next level (Revis, DeSean Jackson, Devin Hester, Charles Woodson, Reggie Bush, Ted Ginn (it's coming...hey, any time you have two 100-yard returns in the same game in the NFL, you make the list), and, of course, WW83)
(Quick sidenote: After the injury...basically "the day the music died" for me, I set my microwave timer to :83 and sat just staring off into space, completely numb and devoid of any emotions...that is the kind of effect that guy has on me when he plays football, and I guarantee I was not the only one to feel like that.)
So the Jets get the Colts...probably the starters this time, next Sunday. You know, here's the thing for me about the Colts. It has become painfully obvious to myself that I just have Yankee-like hatred for the Colts...I think the reason now more than anything is that they bring out the worst in really good teams. When I say they, I mean Peyton. Look, I know that they have a very good team...a great team at that. Wayne is probably the #3 receiver (Fitzy, Andre Johnson) in the league right now, and they have Freeney and Mathis and all that good stuff...but it all comes back to Peyton. In the history of this great league, one man has not been able to control all aspects of a game the way Manning does. Can't help but think about the Pats this year (boy I'm really on a roll here...first the Welker injury, now the 4th and 2...so without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you the story of a guy named David Tyree!). The ambitiousness and, ultimately, the downfall of the Pats' season all happened because of the mistrust of a defense to stop Manning from driving 70 yards and scoring a TD, the Pats elect to try and end the game before it ever gets to that point, and we all know how that went.
(Sidenote: I have not written any opinion about this, and sorry to be three months late to the party. In the aftermath, it was revealed that the numbers favored Belichick's decision. The numbers, however, do not factor these two factors in:
- The offense was abysmal in terms of their cohessiveness and momentum heading into that 4th and 2 play
- I'm fairly certain Peyton Manning did not factor into most of the data these "numbers" showed...kind of an important detail there.
I made a comment late last week that there was an exceptionally good chance the Colts' D could throw up a shutout. The reason I believed this was definitely a multi-pronged approach. First, the Ravens played exceptional at Foxboro, only Flacco was awful. Baltimore was able to expose the Pats' woeful run defense (okay, the more I'm thinking about the defense...maybe he made the right call...I'm 70/30 right now). Also, the Pats had to prepare for Flacco and the run, while the Colts, after seeing what happened a week ago, knew that if they continued to load up on the run and make Flacco (whose hip was a big question mark throughout the week as well) beat them, they would be in really good shape. What is frustrating about what happened with the Ravens is that they actually were not doing bad at all on the ground (4.6 yards per carry for the team, Rice at a 5.2 clip), and yet they made Flacco win the game for them. That is not a good equation for a young QB in the playoffs, and I'm thinking Baltimore should know this...you know...considering they did the exact same thing last year!
- Flacco's attempts in playoff wins: 23, 22, 10
- Flacco's attempts in playoff losses: 30, 35
Speaking of horrible, fairly easy games to see coming...there was the rest of this last playoff weekend, where the home teams won in a combined 99-20 demolition of our other Wild Card weekend winners. Is it possible that New Orleans has the most authentic home field advantage going? (The reason for the "authentic" is you could justify Indy throughout the Peyton years, and you could also justify that it was completely made up due to the RCA Dome pumping crowd noise through their PA...you could). They look tremendous, and the reason I'm liking them this week is that, don't get me wrong, the Brett Favre-Dome Experience experiment is enthralling, but I'm thinking Dallas' secondary was getting bailed out a bunch by their front seven, especially their two ends (Spencer and Ware) who were doing their best Strahan-Umenyiora/Umenyoira-Tuck impression over the Cowboys' recent surge. Don't get me wrong, I like Newman (mostly as a return guy though) and Jenkins is up-and-coming, but the Cowboys' ability to rush the pass was mostly thwarted by the Vikings' line (I mean really all you need are three Pro-Bowlers on the blind side...that's all), and that was really keying their success against some top-of-the-line QBs (I'm thinking Brees and McNabb there...sorry J-Camp).
(Sorry, I have to go back to Favre...was this the most elaborate way to skirt around the edges and end up exactly where you wanted to be the whole time plan ever executed in major sports history? Sure, Elway chose the Yankees over the Colts, Manning held out on the Chargers and went to the Giants (by the way, why is this not happened other than just the once...think about it...what is to stop someone at any point in the draft to simply say "if you draft me, I'm not playing for you...ever, ever), but Favre decided instead of retiring and coming back with the Vikes a year later, he would allow the Pack to trade him to the Jets, play the year out, retire again, hold everyone in suspense (for literally the third off-season in a row), then go to the team he wanted to go the whole time (you know, because it's inside and it's not, you know, outside in Green Bay or Jersey.)
So, I'm going Jets/Saints, and I'm thinking I'm not losing any money here (because gambling is wrong...especially if you pick losers...tease the Indy/NYJ over to 48 and the Jets to +16.5, it pays .5556/to 1, meaning if you wagered $100, you would win $55.56...again, not like any of this is relevant...stay in school). I have Rex Ryan fever...just full-blown (which coincidentally picked up right after my Bruce Gradkowski outbreak was halted by common sense and a torn ACL). Also, how often am I going to have a man-crush for any New York-related player like the one I have with Revis? The Saints' D takes a ton of chances, which works out nicely if you are going up against a gun-slinger QB. However, that being said, for any kind of monetary value, I'm just not overly huge about it, because the whole "taking chances" thing is a two-way street (I know it's insanely obvious, but I figured I had to mention the cons of the Saints as well), and Favre has been unreal indoors. However, they play with AstroTurf up in Minny, whereas the Saints are of the FieldTurf persuasion. If you have ever played on both surfaces (or even just walked on them), you know there is a huge difference. Give me the Saints...cautiously.
The NBA is at an absolute fascinating time in its history right now (yes, I am arguing the '09-
'10 season is historic before the All-Star break...bear with me). For the first time since Bird/Magic, you have two guys playing at their best who could both crack the top 10 players of all-time list when all is said and done (it can be argued that Kobe may be on "the back nine" of his career, but the numbers and the wins and the constant game-winners say otherwise, and LeBron may have not even hit his stride yet (a ridiculously scary proposition), but for the sake of this argument, let's just say they're both playing on an insanely high level), you have the highest "second tier" talent level probably since the early 90s (Malone, Stockton, Barkley, Robinson, Ewing, Olajuwon, Pippen, O'Neal, LJ, Kemp, Drexler, and now 'Melo, Wade, Duncan, CP3, Howard, Nash, Nowitzki, Rondo (yup, he's cracked this list), Garnett, Pierce, Durant, Bosh...and the last name should be Josh Smith, but for some God-forsaken reason, he has not been able to become a superstar...come on Josh Smith, we still need you). You have the most bizarre home court advantages, which look like this:
- L.A. (I'm thinking more Lakers here...sorry Blake Griffin-less Clippers)
The NBA also seems to be making the right moves lately. In addition to the draft rule, they are now running a lot more triple and quadruple headers, which really works out on days like Christmas and MLK Day (I believe it was an XMas quintuple header actually), and they are having the All-Star game not on the Mavs' home floor, but in Cowboys Stadium...again, a very sly, somewhat risky, and yet calculated move (the league is getting more and more popular, meaning that they can actually do this in a football stadium, and probably get 70,000 people to show up...it's not inconceivable, which makes it a good call I think). See, what's fascinating to me is that the two leagues that were thought to be cellar-dwellers in the grand scheme of professional sports (the NBA and the NHL) are now actually making the right moves in order to bump interest/exposure/revenues and the three that are on top (NFL, MLB, NASCAR) seem to be slipping. First, the NFL has made some really, really peculiar moves over the last year or so that could have some short-term ramifications that are not of the positive variety (this is known in English as "they f___ed up). Of course, I have to start with the draft, because it is so near and dear to my heart. One of my dreams as a sports fan was to take the train from Boston to Penn Station and watch the first day of the draft, which used to run from Noon on Saturday until...I don't know, really, really late. Now, it's like Lollapalooza, except with no Jane's Addiction, and far suckier to be quite honest. The first round is on a Thursday night, 2 & 3 are on Friday, then Saturday is 4-7 with coverage starting at 10:00 in the morning. Should the first three rounds just simply be changed to "the ones that matter?" How much more can you trivialize the last four rounds? Honestly, I wish they would do it at a more ridiculous time so at least I can make it into an event (seriously, you wouldn't be up for an NFL Draft party at 2 A.M. on a Saturday? I'm thinking the amount of time that would take (4 hours?) would be the perfect capper to an all-nighter...imagine, Mr. Irrelavent being announced as the sun rises from the east...could it get much better than that?).
Then, if that wasn't bad enough, they decide to abandon the Pro Bowl altogether and turn it into a "hopefully the guy I want to see play isn't playing in the Super Bowl" game. I mean imagine if the Colts and Saints both make the Super Bowl. How could Jim Caldwell or Sean Payton let Manning and Brees play in that game? (Well, someone would whisper into Caldwell's ear that it's not a good idea). If the Vikes go, no Percy Harvin or Sidney Rice for you. (Rice is officially in the top five in terms of best receivers in the NFL...I mean he just needed someone competent back there throwing to him. I mean it's almost undeniable to not mention him in the Andre Johnson/Reggie Wayne/Fitz/Welker category, and yes, Wes overtook C. Johnson (both of them), Moss, and Steve Smith...I think Rice and Brandon Marshall are in this weird kind of place where if you told me one of them broke the all-time single season receiving yards record, I wouldn't think twice, and yet I can't put them in the top 3 yet...interesting). With the Jets...Revis! No!!! Oh come on now. NFL, how dare you deprive me of Darelle Revis against Larry Fitzgerald?! That would be absolute amazing (and simply sintilating). But alas, they need the money, because, you know, they only took in about $6 billion this year (this is based on the $6.54B mark they hit in '07...I know times are tough, so I'm thinking a $540 million dip is more than fair). Seriously, I don't care what the ratings are or who would/wouldn't sponsor the game, or whatever the reason was...you cannot take that game from Hawaii and have it on before the Super Bowl. It simply just should not even be tampered with. Again, I don't know of all the details between the Hawaiian state officials and the NFL, but come on now. The NFL could have easily been fine with losing money on the game and still make out more than well once the bottom line hits. Is nothing sacred anymore?
Top 5 Sacred Things The NFL Will Mess With (for lack of a better term) Before I Die:
- Relocate the Hall of Fame from Canton to New York or Los Angeles: Okay, this one I can see happening in twenty years or less. If you think about it, it makes total sense. Sure, they have always talked about going to Canton, but I have to say that Canton, on a whole, is not like Cooperstown. Little kids that are being bred to be sports fans are not dreaming about going to Canton one day...in fact, I don't even know if they dream about Cooperstown anymore, but I can guarantee if they are dreaming of one of those places, it's Cooperstown (ironically, I passed up a chance to go to Hawaii to go to Cooperstown with my Dad...so if the NFL put the Pro Bowl in Cooperstown, I may be in a bit of a bind).
- An NFL team in Europe: It almost seems like an inevitability. Here's how this situation plays out with me: If you want one game a year over there, fine. Two? Okay, a little tougher to swallow, but if you can figure out how to do it in multiple countries (something like, gasp, the NHL is doing!), then maybe, but there is talk about either relocating a team or creating an expansion team in London. See, now you've gone too far. We all know inherently when we have taken things too far (or else you're insane...sweet...thanks for reading). I defy you to find two people that find this to be a good idea. One could be an abberation, but two? I may have to do further research if you get two. Otherwise, I would totally consider just boycotting the league. I love the Pats, but if they put a franchise in Europe, that might be it for me.
- End Zone Celebrations: They've already got rid of it in the college game, which features younger, less mature guys who absolutely have more to celebrate about (they're young, they're getting constantly laid, and this may be the absolute pinnacle of their sports careers/lives) than guys in the NFL. They've already clamped down on excessive/premeditated celebrations (best in order: TO's sharpie, Chad Johnson and everything that happened in the 30 seconds after he scored, Joe Horn's cell phone, Pac-Man Jones sliding down the field goal anchor post like it was a stripper pole (a move much more understood after All-Star Weekend in Vegas)), so it seems as though it's going to be a matter of time before the league says "you know, all this dancing could lead to chaos...damn kids with your rock music, and...and your stripper poles."
- The "Hard" Salary Cap: This is what makes the NFL great. It's what made the Pats' dominance so incomprehensible. The fact that there is a maximum amount that each team can spend, and there are absolutely no exceptions. If Dallas wanted to get Adrian Peterson, and subsequently, they could make like $100 million and be Super Bowl contenders, it would not matter (although it would be hilarious to see Dallas mortgage their franchise to get a running back from Minnesota, where the Vikings did basically the exact same thing in '89 with Herschel Walker, which fueled the 90s Cowboys dynasty). Next year is looking like it will be uncapped...it's going to be very interesting to see how many of these "big contracts" will be hitting the market, and when they do, what kind of initial cash windfall they will receive. I'm about 95% positive that Daniel Snyder is going to offer $100 million to Ray Lewis and Randy Moss...just think about it...ah, ah...yeah you can see it.
- The Challenge Flag: I'm thinking the challenge flag (the red one), is going to get replaced by some kind of buzzer or electronic gadget. The reason I put so much emphasis on this particular subject is that nothing else can make an otherwise genius-like individual (or so you hope) look like a complete jackass. First of all, the different places coaches keep the flag is a really fascinating and bizarre trip (for example, Belichick's is in his right sock...oh he has pockets). So you have the whole retrieving of the flag aspect, which is great (especially when they forget it, which has happened...I'm almost sure that's happened), but by far my favorite part is the few seconds right before they are going to throw it. Here you have a guy whose career may depend on him throwing the flag, challenging a call, and saving his job, and yet he has to hear the word from upstairs about whether or not that's a smart move. Wouldn't you love to be the guy on the horn with the coach? I mean, sure, it, at times, would be a somewhat stressful job...but I mean...don't we already do that anyway? All I need is a comfy chair, a six-pack, an end table, and coasters, especially if it's a wood table (I too respect wood), and I could absolutely do as good of a job, if not better than these nitwits running the show. I wouldn't even have to quit my job. One day a week? That'll work. Anyway, back to the coaches. So they're waiting and waiting, and of course, this is going to lead to the pump fakes, the "I'm going to do it...I swear I'm going to do it!!!" pump fakes, then the screaming starts ("oh for the love of God say yes!...I can't hold it any more!...it's burning a hole through my hand!"), finally, there are three scenarios that play out from this: 1.) Coach throws the flag, knew he would the whole time, got the word from upstairs, everyone's on the same page...you know, if the challenge doesn't work out, the coach is mad, but he at least went with his gut and the guys upstairs, so everyone goes down with the ship, 2.) Coach throws the flag, but clearly, he is doing it somewhat abbrasively and against his will. However, they hired the guy talking to the coach to watch the replay and tell him whether or not to throw it. Therefore, if the coach holds onto the flag when everyone is telling him to throw it, then the coach has isolated himself from the rest of his staff, almost being like a "I know you want me to throw it, but...ummm...screw you guys, you can't tell me what to do because I'm your boss" kind of statement. So when they tell you to throw it, 99% of the time you have to throw it. But when the coach does it against his will, it's great because they throw it down in such obvious disgust. No floating arc, no form, it's more like a "I hate you guys, I don't want to do this, I want another Capri Sun" type of flailing wrist snap so the flag's trajectory goes straight down, and 3.) Coach doesn't throw the flag, although he wanted to, but the guys upstairs didn't think so/didn't have enough time/looks at the play. The poor coach is basically doing as I described earlier with the pump fakes, losing his mind, and yet cannot go rogue because it will get found out if he went against the replay advisors, especially in this day and age. In any event, it's high drama, and it would be a shame to strip away some of the mortal signs of a coach (that reminds me, someone please check if Jim Caldwell is breathing...I'm sorry to keep picking on him, but it's so easy).
I think I'm going to devote an entire article to the Sox...needless to say this could be the absolute most critical I've been about a Sox offseason in quite some time. So, I almost feel like I need to space it out a little bit. Anyway, good to be back. Hope everyone is hanging in there. It's tough sometimes, and I know this, but just know that you're not alone in this. Take care. Peace.