Friday, December 30, 2005

Fearless Predictions For 2006

An eventful year in sports, 2005 is poised to join Lance Armstrong, Reggie Miller, and Mark Messier in exiting the stage. What does its successor have in store? Here's a look ahead.

USC will outscore Texas in a high-flying Rose Bowl. The game will be the most offensive display in prime time since "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance."

The Cincinnati Bengals will shock the sports world by winning the Super Bowl. After a Hail Mary reception to end the first half, Chad Johnson's touchdown celebration will also enable him to choreograph the halftime show.

In February, American sports fans will enjoy saying "luge" before dropping the word from their vocabulary for another four years.

Duke's J.J. Redick and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison will split the national player of the year awards. College basketball fans will wonder if African-Americans can still compete at the Division 1 level.

The Department of Defense will experience upheaval, as Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is replaced by Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will insert all four of "The LeBrons" into the starting lineup.

Villanova will inspire memories of 1985 as it captures the NCAA basketball championship. However, Philadelphia will not hold a parade, as no one in the city remembers how to stage a victory celebration.

Dozens of major leaguers will fail drug tests, shortly after Pizza Hut introduces its Steroid Lover's Pizza.

Augusta National will be abuzz as Tiger Woods wins his fifth Masters championship. Some club members will be offended when he admits that his other four green jackets are littered with Guinness stains from St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

Former President Carter will earn his second Nobel Peace Prize by facilitating an accord between Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb.

Canadians will rejoice as Ottawa becomes their first Stanley Cup champion in 13 years. Americans will be stunned to see a group of Senators working together and accomplishing something.

Rafael Palmeiro will claim he has never intentionally eaten at Pizza Hut.

The Detroit Pistons will defeat the San Antonio Spurs in an NBA Finals rematch. Commissioner David Stern will describe each team as "hard-nosed," "the epitome of team play," and "a marketing disaster."

Hawaii's Michelle Wie will capture the U.S. Women's Open at age 16. President Bush will praise her but admit privately, "I'd rather see an American win."

In June and July, American sports fans will watch soccer before dropping the word from their vocabulary for another four years.

College football commentator Beano Cook will endorse a playoff system, as long as Penn State and Notre Dame play in the championship game every year.

Despite the absence of Lance Armstrong, interest in the Tour De France will surge due to surprise winner Danica Patrick.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays will shock the nation by advancing to the World Series. The one in Williamsport, where they lose in extra innings to kids from Japan.

The WTA will stage a new tennis tournament consisting entirely of hot Russian babes.

An NFL player will be suspended for only giving 107 percent. However, his team will regroup and make history by playing 'em two games at a time.

Before all that happens, you'll get to watch the ball drop on Saturday night. Because the Raiders will be playing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

God Bless the Conference USA

The endless parade of college football bowl games continues with two contests tonight. Clemson takes on Colorado in the Champs Sports Bowl, followed by Arizona State versus Rutgers in the Insight Bowl. With the completion of last night's Motor City Bowl, college football fans must face a sad truth: Conference USA's predominant position in the bowl hierarchy is now over.

Before today, seven bowl games have been played - five of which included a Conference USA school. The bowl season includes 28 matchups. Therefore, if the league could have maintained such a pace, 20 of its 12 members would have gone bowling. Instead, Conference USA will have to settle for its ubiquitous presence in the first week of bowl games.

Southern Mississippi got the conference off to a roaring start with a 31-19 victory over Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl. The Golden Eagles won the same game last season, so they felt the equivalent euphoria that defending Rose Bowl champion Texas will experience if it wins in Pasadena on January 4. Southern Miss was heavily favored, so the only upset was that Arkansas State still calls its teams the Indians. The Sun Belt champs did claim superiority in their state, as the Razorbacks failed to qualify for the postseason.

Conference USA's record fell to 1-1 the next night as UTEP was trounced 45-13 by Toledo in the GMAC Bowl. The game was played in Mobile and represented the first unpleasant experience in the state of Alabama for Miners head coach Mike Price. Inexplicably, two bowl games were played the following evening with no involvement from the league. One of those matchups was the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, which may be adding more words to its name as I write this article. With an at-large berth available, representatives from the bowl showed themselves to be completely unpatriotic in passing over Conference USA. Instead, they invited the Naval Academy.

Houston returned the conference to the spotlight on Friday in the Fort Worth Bowl. Kansas routed the Cougars 42-13 in a rematch of Larry Brown's first game as the KU head basketball coach in 1983. Phi Slamma Jamma won that matchup 91-76 on its way to a second consecutive NCAA championship game appearance. After that season, the Houston basketball program headed south. Coach Brown also went south, as well as north, east, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, and any directions yet to be defined.

Central Florida diverted the nation from last-minute shopping and family dysfunction during a Christmas Eve classic versus Nevada. Due to a missed extra point, the Golden Knights fell 49-48 in overtime at the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. However, the team's 8-5 record reflected an amazing turnaround from a winless 2004. The accomplishment is a wonderful entry for coach George O'Leary's resume - certainly the most impressive factual listing.

Last night, Memphis got Conference USA back into the win column with a 38-31 victory over Akron in the Motor City Bowl. The Tigers had to overcome the Zips' previous experience at Ford Field - a 31-30 thriller over Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game. The two shootouts were a pleasant surprise for the city of Detroit - unaccustomed to seeing exciting football at the venue.

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane hopes for a third Conference USA victory in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl versus Fresno State on New Year's Eve. Tulsa will be the third "Golden" league member to play in a bowl game, so look for conference also-rans to follow suit. Next season, you'll see the East Carolina Golden Pirates, the UAB Golden Blazers (an homage to the early days of Monday Night Football), and the Marshall Golden Thundering Herd.

Now Conference USA concedes the spotlight to BCS members. The league enjoyed its day in the sun, but tonight it steps aside for what college football fans truly want to see: Rutgers in a bowl game.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Chiefs Seek To Have All Home Games in December

The Kansas City Chiefs kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Saturday with a 20–7 victory over AFC West rival San Diego.  Kansas City also extended its amazing home December winning streak to 18 consecutive games.  When hearing Andy Williams croon “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” Chiefs fans believe that he’s singing about Arrowhead Stadium in the twelfth month.  Considering this great run, the team has requested that the NFL schedule all its 2006 home games in December.


The request is unlikely to be granted, as playing eight games in one month would place an enormous physical burden on the players.  Even though one of those contests would be versus San Francisco, the other seven games would take a toll.  Such a grind could also bring head coach Dick Vermeil to tears.  If not, something else surely will.


However, you cannot blame the Chiefs for making such an appeal.  Kansas City has not lost a December home game since a 24–19 setback to Indianapolis in 1996.  Back then, Vermeil was in the broadcast booth, Marcus Allen was the Chiefs’ leading rusher, and Kansas City still had a major league baseball team.  The Chiefs opened that season with a loss at Houston – to the Oilers.  For the young readers out there, Houston once had a team called the Oilers.  They moved to Tennessee and became the Titans.  They are not to be confused with the New York Jets, known as the New York Titans until 1963.  Houston now has the Texans, not to be confused with the Dallas Texans.  To bring things full circle, the Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963.  Name changes were commonplace in the American Football League that year, to the delight of league commissioner Sean “Puffy” Combs.


The December winning streak began on December 7, 1997 with a 30–0 thumping of old rival Oakland.  The blowout was so deflating for the visitors, most of the infamous Raider fans did not even muster up the energy to commit any felonies.  The streak has continued for eight more years, even though 1997 and 2003 were the only playoff seasons during that stretch.  The team did make a shrewd move in 2001 – a year in which the Chiefs finished 6–10.  Faced with a home matchup with Philadelphia – about to make the first of four consecutive NFC championship game appearances – Kansas City knew that a loss was inevitable.  Therefore, the team made sure that the game was held on Thursday, November 29.  If it had been played three days later on Sunday, the Chiefs’ 23–10 defeat would have ended the December run at seven games.


Strangely, Kansas City is 0–3 in January home games during that time period.  Playoff losses to Denver and Indianapolis in January 1998 and 2004, respectively, were particularly painful.  In January 2000, the hated Raiders kept the Chiefs out of the postseason with an overtime triumph.  Kansas City is well aware of this track record as it faces Cincinnati on Sunday, January 1.  As a result, the team is editing its schedule to show that the game will take place on December 32.


If the league does deny the team’s request, the Chiefs will adapt accordingly.  The 2006 NFL season will begin next September.  However, the Kansas City organization will eagerly await its home opener in the month of “December minus 3.”

Thursday, December 22, 2005

UNC To End Pacific Time Zone Games

On Wednesday night, USC upset #17 North Carolina 74–59 in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.  Some viewed the loss as an inevitable down game for the young Tar Heels.  However, the defeat was just the latest in Carolina’s ongoing struggles on the west coast.  As a result, the program has decided to stop playing games in the Pacific time zone.


With the latest defeat, UNC has dropped five of its last six contests on Pacific time.  Last year, the eventual national champion Tar Heels opened the season in Oakland against a Santa Clara squad that ultimately finished 15–16.  Naturally, the Broncos dominated in a 77–66 stunner.  The upset particularly inspired SCU alumnus Steve Nash, leading to something far more improbable: a guy from Canada being the NBA MVP.


The Santa Clara game was part of the Pete Newell Challenge, in which Carolina also lost to California in December 1998.  That 1998–99 season ended in Seattle with a shocking 76–74 first round defeat to Weber State.  The upset ensured that the name of Harold “The Show” Arcenaux, who scored 36 points for the Wildcats, would be part of “Where Are They Now?” features every March for eternity.  UNC also was hampered by the pronunciation of its opponent.  Carolina has no problem with adversaries pronounced “WEB-er,” as shown by its title-game wins over Chris Webber and Bruce Weber in 1993 and 2005, respectively.  However, the Heels were confused by playing “WEE-ber” State and suffered an early exit.


Even legendary coach Dean Smith was not immune to such troubles.  His final game in the Pacific time zone was a 1995 Final Four showdown with Arkansas in Seattle.  The Razorbacks came out on top, 75–68.  The Emerald City was also the site for a 1988 regional final defeat to Arizona.  In 1968, Smith’s first coaching experience in the NCAA championship game resulted in a 78–55 thumping at the hands of UCLA in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.  The Final Four returned there four years later, as UNC fell to Florida State in the semifinals.  Needless to say, Coach Smith did not collaborate with Randy Newman in writing “I Love L.A.”


Since 1989, Carolina’s only victory on Pacific time occurred in December 2000.  The Heels left Pauley Pavilion with an 80–70 triumph over UCLA.  However, that victory occurred with Matt Doherty as head coach.  With the Doherty era, none of the normal rules of UNC basketball apply.


Interestingly, the Tar Heels have excelled when traveling beyond the Pacific time zone.  Last November, Carolina rebounded from the Santa Clara setback to win the Maui Invitational.  UNC also won in Maui in 1999, and in 1997 the Heels claimed their third Great Alaska Shootout championship.  As a result, the school’s athletic department is lobbying to hold a future ACC tournament in Tahiti.


However, last night’s defeat proved that the Pacific time zone is a black hole for Carolina.  At USC, whose football bandwagon is as large as the Titanic, the basketball program is apparently still a rumor.  The visit from the defending national champions drew less than 6000 spectators to the Sports Arena.  Approximately 1000 of those reportedly were lured with a false promise that they would get to dance on the court with Matt Leinart.  However, geography ensured that the favored Heels had no chance.  As a result, the program will refuse any Pacific time zone games for future seasons.


The decision could cause a change in philosophy for head coach Roy Williams, who has always recruited well in the Golden State.  Carolina traditionally plays a “homecoming game” for its upperclassmen, and this year’s powerhouse recruiting class includes Californians Alex Stepheson from North Hollywood and Deon Thompson from Torrance.  In next year’s UNC media guide, do not be surprised if Stepheson is listed as a Hollywood, Florida native.  Also, Thompson’s hometown of Torrance will be described as a suburb (a very distant one) of Cleveland.


Fortunately for the Tar Heels, no other trips to the Pacific time zone are scheduled this season.  However, if the young team reaches the NCAA tournament, it had better avoid the Oakland region.  The pod system means that a first round trip to San Diego is unlikely.  However, two wins would bring them to the Bay Area.  Overcoming inexperience is one thing.  Defeating the time zone gods is an entirely different matter.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Lions Locate Millen Supporter

Success has been elusive for the Detroit Lions in recent years.  However, today the organization can feel a strong sense of accomplishment.  After a long, exhausting search, the Lions have managed to find a Matt Millen supporter.


To respect his safety, the name of the individual has not been released.  The organization has been working with private investigators in recent weeks to locate any Lions fans that still approve of Millen, the embattled team president.  One member of the search effort noted the difficulty of the task, remarking, “Bin Laden would have been easier to find.”  However, unlike the past five games on the field, this endeavor resulted in success.


Millen won four Super Bowl rings as a linebacker with the Raiders, 49ers, and Redskins.  After his playing days ended, he showed his sharp football mind as a respected NFL broadcaster.  However, he had no front office experience before Detroit owner William Clay Ford appointed him to be the team president in 2001.  Coming off 8–8 and 9–7 records the previous two seasons, the Lions were stagnating as an average team.  Under Millen’s watch, mediocrity has not been a problem – it’s been an unreachable dream.  Detroit is 20–58 over that period.


As the losses have mounted, calls for Millen’s head have grown louder.  “Fire Millen” chants have been heard not only at Lions games, but at sporting events involving the Red Wings, Pistons, University of Michigan, and Michigan State.  A website has appeared, because the existence of,,, and were clearly not enough.  Unconfirmed reports claim that Millen’s wife Patricia showed up to a recent Lions game holding a “Fire My Husband” sign.


Fans’ disgust culminated in yesterday’s protests surrounding the team’s home finale versus Cincinnati.  A sports talk radio station organized the Angry Fan March before the game.  The event drew approximately 1000 participants – one for every interception in Joey Harrington’s career.  As part of the protests, many of the marchers wore orange in reference to the visiting Bengals.  This decision shows how different this year has been for Bengal supporters – other fans actually want to emulate them.  The on-field action went as expected, with Cincinnati rolling 41–17 to clinch the AFC North title.  Chad Johnson provided the only disappointment for Lions fans.  After his touchdown reception, Detroit fans hoped to see the Bengal star unveil an elaborate “Firing Matt Millen” routine.  However, Johnson simply handed the ball to the stunned official.


Despite this hostile climate, Millen still has one supporter.  Reportedly, the fan is excited for February’s Super Bowl XL at Detroit’s Ford Field.  An avid soccer follower, he knows that the host receives an automatic berth in the World Cup, and he assumes that the Super Bowl works the same way.  The Lions plan to delay telling him the truth, hoping to maintain his approval of Millen as long as possible.


The organization is hopeful that it can locate more Millen supporters.  Certainly they will find others who want him to keep his job.  All they have to do is look in Chicago, Green Bay, and Minneapolis.

Friday, December 16, 2005

King Kong Agrees To Terms With Lakers

Australia’s Andrew Bogut was the first overall selection in last June’s NBA draft.  However, another foreign-born rookie center is sure to have a much larger impact in the league.  King Kong, a free agent hailing from Skull Island, has signed a multi-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.


The announcement surprised many basketball insiders, who expected the Phoenix Suns to have the inside track.  Kong has a well-chronicled friendship with longtime Suns mascot The Gorilla.  Also, Kong and reigning league MVP Steve Nash could have formed an enviable inside-outside combination.  However, team officials feared that Kong could become jealous when the Suns’ current star big man, Amare Stoudemire, returns from a knee injury.  In such a scenario, Kong could refuse to pass the ball to Stoudemire, or even worse, eat him.


On the other hand, the signing is a huge coup for the Lakers.  Since trading Shaquille O’Neal to Miami in 2004, the team has been looking for another beast in the middle.  Listed at 25 feet tall, Kong makes even Shaq look tiny.  Plus, free throws should not be a problem, as Kong can stand behind the free throw line and simply dunk the ball from a standing position.  Savings to the Lakers will also be significant.  While O’Neal commands the NBA’s highest salary, Kong will be paid in truckloads of bananas.


Numerous factors made the Lakers particularly appealing to Kong.  No one in the world has more star power at the moment, so moving to Los Angeles and hanging out with Jack Nicholson is a natural fit.  Also, after working extensively with Peter Jackson, playing for Phil Jackson should be a smooth transition.  Most importantly, considering Kong’s long-time affinity for beautiful blondes, the presence of Jeannie Buss in the front office sealed the deal.


Sources close to Kong noted that he has been eager to display his skills on the largest stage.  Skull Island does not have any organized basketball leagues, due in part to its large population of dinosaurs.  Raptors, it has been proven, lack the ability to play basketball.  Kong has also been upset by criticism in his homeland, most notably in a scathing column published in the Skull Island Sun by the president of the local NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored Primates).  Noting Kong’s relationships with Caucasian actresses Fay Wray, Jessica Lange, and Naomi Watts, the article accuses him of selling out in order to avoid being stereotyped as a black gorilla.  Yearning to be free of such attacks, Kong decided to leave for the United States, where athletes are never criticized in the media.


Kong is expected to dominate due to his sheer size, but some questions do remain.  Friction could ensue if Kobe Bryant does not pass the ball enough.  However, the ape is Kobe’s first teammate who can legitimately threaten to step on him after an ill-advised three-point attempt, so look for Kong to get plenty of touches.  Also, the January 31 road game versus the Knicks could be problematic, as Kong expects 1930s airplanes to shoot at him during his trip to New York.  Furthermore, the ape’s habit of being unclothed in public (the first NBAer since Dennis Rodman in that category) violates the league’s new dress code.  Facing heavy fines, Kong will find out that commissioner David Stern is the true King of the NBA.


However, the upside of this signing far outweighs any negatives.  The Lakers were in the unusual position of being overshadowed in their own city by the first-place Clippers.  Elton Brand and his crew continue to impress, but the Lakers have re-established their identity on the Los Angeles sports landscape: the 800–pound (or more) gorilla.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ripken Negotiating With Yankees

Not long ago, there existed a holy trinity of American League shortstops: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Nomar Garciaparra.  The Yankees claimed two-thirds of this group in 2004 as Rodriguez moved to third base and joined Jeter in the Bronx.  Garciaparra could make it a clean sweep, as the free agent has expressed interest in playing multiple positions for New York.  Now a stunning development has emerged involving another famous shortstop.  Cal Ripken, Jr. is discussing a deal to come out of retirement and play in pinstripes.


The news is shocking for fans of the legend known as “Mr. Oriole.”  Ripken has owned the hearts of Baltimore supporters since his Rookie of the Year season in 1982.  Cal’s record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game in 1995 provided a shining and transcendent moment after the infamous 1994–95 players’ strike.  No baseball player of his generation has been more synonymous with one franchise.  Therefore, seeing Ripken in Yankee pinstripes would be even more painful for Baltimore fans than watching the Orioles’ pitching staff.


If the signing comes to fruition, the Yankees will continue adhering to the old adage, “You can never have enough shortstops.”  Excluding the catcher, the shortstop is the most critical defensive position on the diamond.  Therefore, it makes sense to have as many of them as possible.  New York appears set at the catcher spot with Jorge Posada.  However, if he suffers a serious injury, look for the club to acquire disgruntled superstar Miguel Tejada and put him behind the plate.


With the presence of Jeter and Rodriguez, Ripken would most likely be used as a designated hitter.  Centerfield appears out of the question, as the Yankees are expected to use the corpse of Honus Wagner.  The Pirate cadaver is considered a major defensive upgrade, with greater range than the beloved but aged Bernie Williams.


Ripken reportedly drew inspiration from Julio Franco’s two-year contract with the Mets.  With Franco’s signing, Cal is in no danger of being the oldest baseball player in New York.  The Big Apple is ecstatic over the return of the new Met, who broke into the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Meanwhile, Ripken would be the biggest Baltimore icon to hit New York since Babe Ruth, who like Cal is often linked to Lou Gehrig.  In fact, the Bambino’s retirement inspired Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech, as Gehrig no longer had to endure the daily ritual of a hung-over Ruth’s puking in the Yankee dugout.


The deal is far from done, but taking the field in Yankee Stadium would delay Ripken’s Hall of Fame induction.  As it stands, Cal and Tony Gwynn are expected to enter Cooperstown on the first ballot in 2007.  Tony will definitely be there.  He never played shortstop, so the Yankees won’t take him away.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Colts Haunted by Winless Preseason

Due to their 13-0 start, the Indianapolis Colts are the talk of the NFL. Sunday's 26-18 victory in Jacksonville put the team within three wins of a perfect regular season. However, the impressive streak cannot erase the huge disappointment lingering from the Colts' 0-5 preseason.

The misery began on August 6, when Indianapolis fell 27-21 to Atlanta in the Tokyo Dome. Billed as the "American Bowl," the result does not bode well if the Colts proceed to another "Bowl" versus an NFC opponent in February. The team will be especially doomed if the Super Bowl is moved from Detroit to any venue in Asia.

Next, the Colts lost 17-10 at home to Buffalo. That loss was understandable, given that the Bills had seven months to prepare after their previous game - a season-ending loss to Pittsburgh. Buffalo's playoff hopes were dashed in that contest as it was caught looking ahead to the exhibition showdown at the RCA Dome. Ultimately the approach paid off as the Bills left Indy with a huge mid-August victory.

The Colts' hopes for redemption were dashed the following week as Chicago emerged with a 24-17 triumph. The defensive-minded Bears provided a blueprint to any teams hopeful of knocking off Indianapolis. First, you must limit Peyton Manning to 1 1/2 quarters of action before he leaves the game. With the passing attack thus curtailed, you should also eliminate the running game by constricting Edgerrin James to four carries. As a bonus in this contest, Chicago forced fumbles on two of those attempts. James's confidence level has not been the same since - he has scored fewer touchdowns than Shaun Alexander AND LaDainian Tomlinson.

A change of scenery did no good in the next game as Indianapolis dropped a 37-24 matchup in Denver. The Broncos, clearly understanding the great importance of preseason results, finished their exhibition slate 4-0. These teams could meet again in the AFC championship game. The August 27 result ensures that Denver is in the Colts' heads and would be a heavy favorite with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

The Colts finished up the preseason by getting routed 38-0 at Cincinnati. This humiliating score has cast a pall over the entire season. Some misguided observers have tried to claim that Indy's 45-37 victory over the Bengals on November 20 supersedes the earlier result. However, with a net deficit of 30 points between the two games, the Colts will worry if they belong on the same field if a third match arises in January. Chad Johnson might wind up dancing more than the old guy in the Six Flags commercials.

Fortunately, head coach Tony Dungy and his team rebounded to win the season opener in Baltimore. They have gamely marched on in victory ever since, attempting to distract fans from their enormous pre-Labor Day shame. Perhaps they will reach the coveted 16-0 mark. If so, they will have made the best of their embarrassing situation. However, they still would not measure up to the 1972 Dolphins. That Miami team won three preseason games.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bears To Play Without Quarterback On Sunday

The Chicago Bears have been the NFL’s biggest surprise this season with a 9–3 record.  The league-best defense has been so dominant, the Bears have flourished despite a nonexistent passing game.  The formula has worked so well, the team has officially abandoned any plans to throw the ball this week.  Chicago will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday without a quarterback.


Due to a preseason injury to Rex Grossman, rookie Kyle Orton has started 11 games for the Bears this season.  Most quarterbacks, even well-regarded ones, struggle as rookies, and Orton is no exception.  He ranks dead last in the league with a quarterback rating of 60.2 – roughly equal to the average number of shots attempted by Kobe Bryant in a game.  The Bears average the fewest passing yards in the NFL with a paltry 122.1 yards per contest.


However, Chicago is fifth in the league in rushing yards per game, and the defense has allowed fewer points and total yardage than any other unit.  Therefore, Orton’s role has been to “manage the offense.”  This phrase is code for “You are NOT Peyton Manning!  Don’t try to be a hero, and as long as you don’t throw a pick-six, Brian Urlacher will let you live!”  One broadcaster noted that it is not Orton’s job to make plays.  He then used the phrase “make plays” 46 more times in accordance with NFL commentator guidelines.


Last week’s win over Green Bay showed exactly how irrelevant the quarterback position is to the Bears.  Orton completed 6 of 17 passes for 68 yards, with one interception.  Their only touchdown came on a 45–yard interception return by Nathan Vasher.  Realizing that the team’s eight-game winning streak required no contribution from the quarterback, head coach Lovie Smith decided to do away with the position this Sunday.  Instead, Vasher, who earlier this season returned a missed field goal for a record 108–yard touchdown, likely will line up as the extra man in Chicago’s backfield.


The Bears defense is on such a roll, the move figures to make little difference in the team’s game plan.  The unit has allowed just five touchdowns during the winning streak and a league-low 127 points for the season – 35 fewer than #2 Indianapolis.  As a result, the defense has drawn inevitable comparisons to the legendary 1985 Bears – absent the lousy rap video.  The one downside is that the unit is so fearsome, it has even intimidated the Chicago offense.


Sunday’s matchup in Pittsburgh will be a test.  The Steelers are desperate for a victory to boost their playoff hopes.  Also, the Bears are 1–2 versus the NFC North this season, with early losses to the Bengals and Browns.  Yes, the Browns – I’m not kidding.  Seriously, look it up if you don’t believe me.  Anyway, this time around, Chicago is a wiser team – one that knows better than to play a quarterback.

Monday, December 05, 2005

BCS Fails To Deliver

On January 4, USC will take on Texas in a highly anticipated Rose Bowl.  Fans have been salivating over this matchup for months, and their blowout victories on Saturday ensured that the contest would take place.  By matching the clear-cut top two teams in the nation, the BCS has failed on its mission: needlessly complicating the postseason so that controversy overshadows on-field competition.


Once every three years, a scenario unfolds that even the BCS has to get right.  In 1999, Florida State and Virginia Tech were the only major conference teams to enter the bowls without a loss.  Miami and Ohio State provided that same situation in 2002.  This year, only the Trojans and Longhorns remain unscathed.  As a result, no matter how many bizarre computer rankings they threw into the mix, the BCS was stuck with this classic matchup.


Pasadena’s gain is sports talk radio’s loss.  With the T.O. issue receding from the spotlight, a BCS mess could have filled the controversy void.  Fans could have debated ad nauseum that Texas would have dominated the USC defense, that Reggie Bush would have left Longhorn defenders in the dust, etc.  Now college football fans will have to see those questions answered on the field.  The brilliance of Matt Leinart and Vince Young is a pale substitute for the rantings of Smackman Steve from Sheboygan.


BCS officials are surely cursing the name of Michigan quarterback Chad Henne, whose last-second touchdown pass prevented Penn State from becoming a third undefeated team.  “Sure, he’s a Pennsylvania native who experienced the thrill of a last-second victory over his home state school,” groused one BCS board member.  “But because of his selfish act, no undefeated team got screwed out of the Rose Bowl.”


Thankfully, the BCS still ensures that no college football playoff will take place in the near future.  Such a system may work in Division III, where the term “student-athlete” is a complete sham.  However, you would be hard-pressed to find a Division I-A football player who would be willing to miss a class or reschedule an exam.  Particularly when you consider that an annual eight-team playoff could take place entirely between December 20 and January 10 – the peak time for college students to be in class.


College basketball shows how poorly a playoff system works.  Last year, the top two teams met in the championship game as #2 North Carolina defeated top-ranked Illinois for the title.  So the five rounds preceding that game were an absolute waste of time.  Was it really worth it to fill out those office pools and suffer through three overtime Elite Eight classics just to wind up with the top two teams at the end anyway?


BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg assures fans that this year’s Rose Bowl is an aberration.  He noted, “The last time the title game was here, we invited a team (Nebraska) that had just lost by 26.  Next year we’ll return to what we do best – depriving a deserving team from a shot at the title.”  If so, the BCS will again live up to its official name: Bowl Controversy Supporters.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Florida Trades Billy the Marlin To Cubs

The Florida Marlins’ purge of high-priced major leaguers continued today as the club dealt longtime mascot Billy the Marlin to the Chicago Cubs.  In return, Florida will receive Ribbee, the mascot of the Cubs’ AA affiliate, the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx.  Yes, that is the actual name of the team.  Seriously.


The deal is the latest in a number of financially motivated moves made by the club in the offseason.  Second baseman Luis Castillo was traded to Minnesota on Friday, on the heels of other recent deals that sent Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and Guillermo Mota out of south Florida in exchange for prospects.  Centerfielder Juan Pierre and catcher Paul Lo Duca could also be traded during next week’s winter meetings in Dallas.  Still, new manager Joe Girardi remains optimistic, as long as Dontrelle Willis can pitch every game and Miguel Cabrera can cover the entire outfield.


Trading for Billy carries some risk for Chicago.  He was born in the Atlantic Ocean, and it remains to be seen whether his effectiveness will carry over to Lake Michigan.  Also, some skeptical fans have noted, “Dude, they’re named the Cubs!  What sense does it make for them to have a fish dancing around?”  Cubs officials countered that a fish is a perfect symbol for the organization, as the club has been swimming upstream for nearly a century.


Most importantly, the Cubs lacked a mascot at the major league level and have the financial resources to take on a high-priced veteran.  Based on his size alone, Billy should make a big splash in Wrigley Field.  On the Marlins’ website, he is listed at 8 feet tall and 250 pounds, in bare fins.  He is quick to note that he has passed all drug tests with flying colors.  Also, as a member of the 1997 and 2003 World Series winners, Billy brings much-desired championship experience to the North Side.


The Marlins are sad to part with Billy, who has been with the franchise since it began play in 1993.  However, the club’s financial predicament, exacerbated by its failure to obtain approval from Miami and Dade County officials on a baseball-only stadium deal, leaves no room for sentiment.  The franchise is seriously considering relocation options, with Las Vegas being the front-runner.  Such a scenario made Billy fearful that he would have to share the infield with dancing Elvises and Rat Pack impersonators.  As a result, the iconic Marlin agreed to waive his no-trade clause.


Meanwhile, Florida is excited about the potential of Ribbee, the highly touted bear who dazzled in the Southern League.  Marlins officials feel that Ribbee has huge upside and can already contribute on the major league level.  They added that Ribbee will be in a low-pressure situation, performing in front of smaller crowds at Dolphins Stadium than he did at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tennessee.  Baseball insiders are already convinced of his immense talent.  One observer speculated that down the road, the Cubs could regret this deal even more than the 1964 trade of Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals.


Billy the Marlin’s departure leaves the University of Miami’s Sebastian the Ibis as the dean of south Florida mascots.  Reached for comment, Sebastian tearfully expressed the view of so many fans in the area.  “He was a true original.  Whenever I see some other oversized fish performing silly antics and enduring pratfalls, it just won’t be the same.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

UNC vs. Illinois: Then and Now

On Tuesday, Illinois defeated North Carolina 68–64 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.  Of course, the outcome was a reversal of the NCAA championship game on April 4, won 75–70 by the Tar Heels.  Besides Dee Brown’s presence in the Illinois backcourt, just about everything else was different this time around.  Here’s how the April 4 and November 29 matchups stack up with each other.


April 4:  Illinois starter James Augustine fouls out with zero points.

November 29:  Augustine earns player of the game honors with 13 points and 13 rebounds.  He suppresses his urge to yell, “How you like me now!” at UNC players because no one he remembers from April is still on the team.


April 4:  UNC center Sean May dominates with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

November 29:  May sits out the Charlotte Bobcats’ loss to Sacramento with a sore knee.  He refers to his seat on the bench as the “Augustine in the title game view.”


April 4:  UNC and Illinois enter coming off victories over perennial powers Michigan State and Louisville, respectively.

November 29:  UNC and Illinois enter coming off victories over perennial… well, they beat Cal-Santa Barbara and Rutgers.  Gauchos and Scarlet Knights are cool nicknames.


April 4:  The Illini appear to be the state’s only hope for a championship.

November 29:  The White Sox are World Series champions, and the Bears are a legitimate possibility to play in the Super Bowl.  The Cubs remain a lost cause.


April 4:  Freshman Marvin Williams is UNC’s sixth man, with three juniors and two seniors in the starting lineup.

November 29:  Freshman Danny Green is UNC’s sixth man, with three other freshmen in the starting lineup.  So his last name is also descriptive of his team.  Almost as much as Duke guard John Hatedbymillions.


April 4:  Luther Head and Marvin Williams are on opposing teams, with a combined record of 69–5.  Williams’s Heels defeat Head’s Illini.

November 29:  Head and Williams are on opposing teams, with a combined record of 5–21.  Head’s Rockets, boosted by the return of injured star Tracy McGrady, defeat Williams’s Hawks.  Of course, a team led by Tracey Ullman could beat Atlanta.


April 4:  UNC head coach Roy Williams gives his team an inspiring locker room speech before they take the floor.

November 29:  Williams introduces his players to each other in the locker room.


November 29:  The game is played in the Dean Smith Center, named for a legendary coach with 879 career victories.

April 4:  The game is played in the Edward Jones Dome, named for Memphis Grizzlies swingman Eddie Jones – the first active NBA player to have an NFL venue named after him.  And yes, I reversed the order of the dates this time to fit the joke.  It’s my column, and I’ll break the rules as I see fit!


April 4 (Are you happy now?):  Game coverage is followed by the traditional “One Shining Moment” song.

November 29:  Game coverage is followed by an commercial with a Christmas jingle.


April 4:  Coach Williams ends his suffering as he captures his elusive first national championship.

November 29:  Illinois coach Bruce Weber continues his suffering, having broken his ankle the previous day while doing yardwork.  Weber blames “Desperate Housewives” for the injury – he had refused to hire any gardeners, fearing them as homewreckers.


Both teams are thankful for one difference between the two games.  They won’t lose anyone to the NBA after this one.

Monday, November 28, 2005

That Not-So-Fresh Feely

Before the fourth quarter of Sunday’s showdown with the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants kicker Jay Feely had been virtually automatic this season.  He was perfect on extra point attempts and made 23 of his 25 field goal tries.  So no one would have expected him to miss three potential game-winning kicks as the Seahawks ultimately triumphed in overtime.  Here are some possible explanations for Feely’s failure to deliver.


He assumed there would be a false start.  The Giants committed an amazing 11 false starts in the game, so he figured it would be a waste of time to be ready on the first snap.

The game was so good, he didn’t want it to end.  The contest was a matchup of NFC division leaders and was tight throughout the game.  Once this entertaining offering finished, the day’s only remaining action was the night game between the 2–8 Saints and the 2–8 Jets.  Feely simply wanted to reward viewers by prolonging their last watchable option on Sunday.

He wanted to work on his kickoffs.  A tireless worker, Feely felt he needed more practice on his kickoffs.  Therefore, he refused to take the easy way out by converting on the 40–yard attempt at the end of regulation.  His decision paid off as the Giants lost the overtime coin toss, and Feely got to kick off one more time.

He was too caffeinated from Seattle’s coffeehouses.  Instead of Gatorade, Feely consumed endless cups of espresso on the sidelines during Sunday’s game.  As a result, he was enormously jumpy and distracted.  And really annoying to teammates during timeouts.

New York was just looking to keep pace with Dallas.  Coming into this week, the Giants were tied for first place with the Cowboys.  Dallas had already lost in overtime on Thursday.  Feely sent a message that the Giants were ready to match their division rival’s every move.

He temporarily thought he was A.J. Feeley.  Many fans confuse Jay Feely with A.J. Feeley, the backup quarterback for San Diego.  Jay himself got into a fog, convinced that as a mediocre quarterback, there was no way he could convert on the field goal attempts.

He wanted to remind Giants fans of their last Super Bowl title.  New York last won the Super Bowl as Scott Norwood’s 47–yard field goal attempt sailed wide.  Feely assumed that the team’s always-sentimental fans would enjoy being reminded of that great memory.

The fans had a rare opportunity to see a tie.  The NFL has only had one tie in the past eight years.  As a Falcon, Feely was part of the last stalemate – a 34–34 thriller against Pittsburgh in 2002.  Knowing that the Seahawks have never had a tie in their history, he wanted the Seattle fans to experience something new.

He just wanted some attention.  Feely was recently overheard venting, “It’s like I’m invisible around here!  It’s always Tiki this, Eli that, Jeremy… C’mon, somebody talk about ME!”  The New York media will grant his request.

He temporarily thought he was Ace Frehley.  The Kiss lead guitarist wants to rock ‘n roll all night – not kick a stupid ball!


Feely will look to bounce back in an NFC East showdown next week against Dallas.  In the meantime, his outlook has already brightened.  The Jets lost 21–19 Sunday night when former Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent was short on a 53–yard attempt at the end.  Feely can sympathize with Nugent, but he’ll choose not to – Feely went to Michigan.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Final Pat On The Back

Actor Pat Morita died on Thursday at the age of 73.  The sports world did its best to make Mr. Miyagi proud in the last week of his life.  As a fitting tribute to the man who portrayed Daniel-san’s wise mentor, the influence of Pats was apparent everywhere.


Patrick Kerney led a tenacious Falcons defense in a 27–7 Thanksgiving rout of the Detroit Lions.  The Denver Broncos, owned by Pat Bowlen, followed up with an overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys.  With a 9–2 record, the Broncos are confident that they can dethrone the Pats as Super Bowl champions.


West Virginia quarterback Pat White capped off Turkey Day with 220 yards rushing in a 45–13 rout over Pitt as tryptophan-induced America remained oblivious.  Last Saturday, Pat Hill’s Fresno State Bulldogs proved they were anything but patsies in a 50–42 shootout loss to USC.  Led by Reggie Bush’s 12,000 all-purpose yards, the Trojans stayed on course to three-peat (a term coined by Pat Riley).  Earlier in the day, Auburn dedicated Pat Dye Field and defeated Alabama 28–18 in the Iron Bowl.


On the Hot Stove circuit, new Phillies general manager Pat Gillick made a splash by trading Jim Thome and oodles of cash to the Chicago White Sox for centerfielder Aaron Rowand and two minor league pitchers.  Rowand will play next to Pat Burrell in the Phillies outfield.  While in Toronto, Gillick presided over a strong farm system that produced 1992 World Series MVP Pat Borders and 1996 American League Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen.


On the court, Pat Summit’s second-ranked Lady Vols avenged a Final Four loss with a 93–55 rout over Michigan State.  Patrick Sparks showed how pivotal he is to the Kentucky men’s team this week, managing only seven points in a loss to Iowa but bouncing back with 25 in a victory over West Virginia.  Patrick Beilein suffered through a 2–10 shooting night for the Mountaineers.


Retired stars such as Patrick Roy and Patrick Ewing would love to honor Morita, but their careers have already waxed off.  However, plenty of other Pats continue to wax on.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Houston, We Have Many Problems

October 19 was a wonderful night for Houston sports fans.  Rebounding from a ninth inning collapse two nights earlier, the Astros defeated St. Louis 5–1 to advance to their first World Series.  The five weeks since have brought nothing but misery for the city’s teams.  On Thursday, Houston residents will give thanks – because all their teams are idle.


The trouble began when the Astros were swept by the White Sox in the World Series.  Houston’s most competitive efforts were not against Chicago, but versus commissioner Bud Selig for his decision to close the roof at Minute Maid Park.  Game 3 lasted as long as Hanukkah before former Astro Geoff Blum’s 14th-inning home run led the White Sox to victory.  Chicago capped off the sweep with a 1–0 win in Game 4, with some guy named Willie Harris scoring the only run.  Interviewed in the victorious clubhouse afterwards, Harris remarked, “Even I’ve never heard of me.”


At least the Astros made it to the big stage – something the Texans will not have the chance to do this season.  The expansion team did defeat Cleveland 19–16 on October 30.  That triumph is the only bright spot in a 1–9 season.  Quarterback David Carr is considering a second career as a crash test dummy, so he can be hit less often.  The Texans have shown great balance, ranking 30th out of 32 NFL teams in both scoring offense and scoring defense.  Houston fans are eagerly awaiting the season-ending showdown with similarly inept San Francisco.  With prime draft position on the line, the January 1 contest is being billed as the Mel Kiper, Jr. Bowl.


Current NBA standings show the Rockets as the worst team in the Western Conference at 3–9.  Superstar Tracy McGrady has missed six games due to back problems, and Houston has lost all six of those matchups.  Despite having the best 7’6” Chinese player in the league, the Rockets need McGrady to once again become solidly mediocre.  On Friday, Houston travels to Memphis for a game that will be pivotal in the Conference USA race.


Houston’s sports problems have become so pervasive, they have even spread to guys named Houston.  Running back Cedric Houston is suffering through a miserable 2–8 season with the New York Jets.  His head coach Herman Edwards, who once famously stated, “You play to win the game,” reportedly has no idea why the Jets are playing right now.  Also, Houston Nutt was unable to lead his Arkansas Razorbacks to bowl eligibility.  At 4–6, Houston’s Hogs are being led to slaughter in Friday’s season-ender at LSU.  Allan Houston must be turning in his grave.  Or, since he’s not actually dead, suffering some sort of pain while resting in his mansion.


Sports fans in Space City hope for better days ahead.  For the past five weeks, however, their teams have been lost in space.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Three Points, Times Two, In Tar Heel Escapes

“Relief” was the word of the day in Chapel Hill on Saturday as UNC twice averted hugely embarrassing defeats.  Both the football and basketball teams eked out three-point victories when defeat would have brought an onslaught of ridicule.


First, the gridiron Heels edged Duke 24–21 in Kenan Stadium.  The lowly Blue Devils entered the game at 1–9, with the only victory coming over Division 1–AA VMI.  The program bears no resemblance to the perennial basketball powerhouse in Durham.  62 percent of students polled at the Duke-Seton Hall basketball game on Wednesday were unaware that the school had a football team.  The football program’s marketing campaign features two slogans: “Steve Spurrier coached here 16 years ago!” and “Duke Football: Your source for comedy since ‘Seinfeld’ ended.”


However, UNC found itself trailing 21–17 late in the fourth quarter.  Ronnie McGill, the star of the game with 146 yards rushing, scored on a 3–yard touchdown run with 1:38 remaining to give Carolina the victory.  With the win, the 5–5 Heels kept their bowl hopes alive.  However, they will have to triumph as heavy underdogs next Saturday at Virginia Tech to extend their season.  Also, the NCAA may rule that any team who needs to rally in the waning minutes to defeat Duke is automatically unworthy of a bowl invitation.


While not pretty, the victory was UNC’s 15th in the last 16 editions of the series.  The Victory Bell, kept in custody by the winner, will soon officially be renamed the Tar Heel Bell.  The lowly Blue Devils (journalists are prohibited from simply writing “the Blue Devils” in a football context) were philosophical about the latest defeat.  Head coach Ted Roof remarked, “There are no moral victories.  We came in here to win and… Oh, who am I kidding?  Of course I’ll take a moral victory!  We came close to not losing – that’s awesome, dude!”


After the narrow escape in Kenan Stadium, the basketball Tar Heels won 83–80 over Gardner-Webb, which sounds more like a brokerage company than a basketball team.  While an upset would have raised eyebrows around the nation, a loss in the Smith Center would have been far less surprising to informed Carolina fans than one on the football field.  Coming off a national championship season, UNC lost its top seven scorers and started three freshmen on Saturday.  The opposing Bulldogs, on the other hand, finished first in the American Sun Conference last year and returned all five starters.  That being said, a loss by UNC would have meant this: “NORTH CAROLINA LOSES TO GARDNER-WEBB!”


The victory came in dramatic fashion as senior David Noel nailed the winning three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining.  Last year in crunch time, the Heels could look to lottery picks Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants, and Marvin Williams.  In Saturday’s game, the go-to guy was a former walk-on who averaged 3.9 points per game last season.  However, this year’s team proved that they are far superior on November 19 to last year’s juggernaut, which fell on that date to Santa Clara.  From November 20 forward, last year’s Heels get the nod.


Carolina’s next contest is Tuesday against Cleveland State.  Unless the Cleveland Cavaliers were scheduled by mistake, the Heels figure to cruise.  Ultimately UNC will land in the tournament again this year, but inconsistency will be a prominent theme in Chapel Hill.  This is to be expected with a roster so young, you expect to see “Hogwarts” on the front of their uniforms.  At least they passed their first test on Saturday, thereby avoiding the constant, “Are you kidding me?  You lost to WHO???” catcalls.


Thus, on Saturday night, Tar Heel fans could collectively exhale.  Across the country, Stanford was less fortunate.  The 13th-ranked Cardinal hoopsters endured a 79–63 thumping by UC-Irvine at Maples Pavilion.  Then the football team rolled over and died in a 27–3 home loss in “The Sorta Big Game” versus Cal.  As a result, students on campuses nationwide were united in one thought: “I’m so glad I don’t go to Stanford.”

Friday, November 18, 2005

No Holiday For Drexel

Thursday evening, Drexel defeated Sam Houston State to advance to the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-off.  As a result, the Dragons will be the surprising opponent for top-ranked Duke on Wednesday and will get to play another game in New York on Friday.  The development was certainly not anticipated by Drexel’s own athletic department, which scheduled contests on Monday versus Rider and Saturday against Pennsylvania.  With four games in six days, the Dragons will officially have the right to call all of us slackers.


If anyone is to face such a task, it might as well be Drexel.  The Philly school is located in a town that’s proud of its blue-collar image and battery-throwing sports fans.  It is the SIXTH most recognizable college basketball program in its own city, so the team is accustomed to fighting for respect.  The program’s most famous alumnus is New York Knicks forward Malik Rose, known for his hard-nosed style of play.  Appropriately enough, the Dragons’ coach is named Bruiser, as in James “Bruiser” Flint, a Philadelphia native.


Drexel’s NIT path opened up when Sam Houston State shocked Missouri, making Mizzou coach Quin Snyder’s seat hotter than Eva Longoria in lingerie.  As a result, the Dragons had an unexpected home game after their first round victory at Princeton.  ESPN2 broadcast Thursday night’s showdown at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, which no one reading this article had heard of before reading this sentence.


Teams in other tournaments next week will play on three consecutive days.  However, they won’t have to change locations, and their opponents will be in the same boat.  After its home matchup with Rider on Monday, Drexel must take the court in New York on Wednesday.  Fatigue could be an issue against the lazy Blue Devils, whose prior game is on Saturday.


However, in a semifinal field that also includes Memphis and UCLA, Drexel has the advantage of 1996 in its favor.  In that year, the 12th-seeded Dragons eliminated 5th-seeded Memphis in a first round NCAA tournament matchup.  The nation will clamor for a rematch in Friday’s championship game, desperately hoping to avoid an unappealing final between Duke and UCLA.  Like Memphis, the Blue Devils and Bruins were first round tournament victims in 1996.  Because Drexel was the only one of the four to advance, it is clearly a superior program to the other three.


Rather than complain about its demanding week, now the school is looking to fill its open dates on Tuesday and Thursday.  The 76ers are off Tuesday after a home game on Monday, so an all-Philly matchup would be a natural for that night.  Also, the Knicks return to New York after a Wednesday night game in Charlotte.  Then their schedule is clear until Saturday, so expect Malik Rose to square off against his alma mater on Thanksgiving.


The wild ride comes to a close when the Dragons face Pennsylvania in the storied Palestra on Saturday.  With a win over Princeton already in hand, Drexel will look to complete a sweep over the Ivy League’s dominant duo.  However, expect Penn to triumph as the exhausted Dragons suffer a second half collapse – literally.


Next week, Drexel will be the hardest working team in college basketball.  You may say that they’re longshots against Duke.  Just don’t call them sleepers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Santa Claus Continues Holdout

With Thanksgiving just over a week away, the holiday season is nearly upon us. However, glad tidings appear to be in short supply at the North Pole. Representatives for Santa Claus and the world’s toy stores remain at an impasse after the latest round of contract negotiations.

If no agreement is reached, the delivery of toys to the world’s youth could be in serious jeopardy. Santa Claus expressed his appreciation for the children, but added that he has the right to demand what he feels he is worth. Furious that the toy stores offered him the same salary as the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus fumed, “What a joke! Kris Kringle does ten times the work as the Easter Bunny. So Kris Kringle’s gotta do what’s right for Kris Kringle!”

The toy stores counter that due to the expansion of online shopping, Santa Claus is not producing at the levels he once was. “Nobody appreciates what Santa has done more than we do,” commented Ebeneezer Grinch, counsel for the toy stores. “He’s an international treasure, and at his peak he was something to behold. But he’s clearly past his prime, and UPS and FedEx are doing lots of his work now. From an economic standpoint, paying him exorbitant dollars makes no sense.”

The relationship between Santa Claus and the toy stores has become increasingly contentious this year. First, the stores angered Santa by insisting on a dress code that would have outlawed his classic red suit and black boots. They relented after Santa Claus repeatedly objected, “No one makes SC wear a tie!” The stores opted not to push a similar policy outlawing facial hair.

What particularly irked Santa was the toy stores’ support of star reindeer Rudolph in his feud with St. Nick. The stores publicly denounced Santa’s statement that his team would be more successful if Brett Favre were leading the sleigh. Press conference rantings by Santa’s agent Drew Rosenhaus only exacerbated the acrimony.

The stores were also less than supportive as media rumors swirled about Santa’s physique. His lighter appearance this season coincided with the first year of the toy stores’ new drug testing procedures. While speculation raged about performance-enhancing substances, Santa Claus insisted that he ingested nothing stronger than milk and cookies left by excited children. His weight loss, he claimed, resulted from spinning classes at the new Gold’s Gym on the North Pole.

This issue only adds to the developments that have downgraded the once-beloved icon’s public image. Feminists have long condemned Santa’s trademark phrase, “Ho Ho Ho,” insisting that his generations of service give him no right to treat women as objects. St. Nick also enraged Arizona residents when he threatened to boycott the state during his infamous “We talkin’ ‘bout CACTUS!” rant.

Time is running out for Santa Claus and the toy stores to come to an agreement. If they fail to reach common ground, it’s the children who will suffer. If that happens, the kids will forget the true meaning of Christmas, instead viewing the sacred holiday as a mere celebration of the Messiah’s birth. And that will truly be sad.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Alexander To Donate Touchdowns To Bama

Quite often in the sports world, we only seem to hear the negative stories.  Tune in to Sportscenter, and you’re likely to be told about arrests, holdouts, drug scandals, and feuding teammates.  However, one of the NFL’s biggest stars is showing that professional athletes can display enormous generosity.  Seattle running back Shaun Alexander has announced plans to donate a portion of his touchdowns to his alma mater, the Alabama Crimson Tide.


Alexander has been a scoring machine for the Seahawks, with 17 touchdowns through the first nine games of the season.  He set an NFL record with his fifth consecutive year with at least 15 touchdowns.  The league record of 27 in a season, set by Priest Holmes in 2003, seems well within reach.


In contrast, Alabama has found it quite difficult to put points on the board.  The Tide has only scored two offensive touchdowns in its past four SEC matchups, leading one observer to remark, “Even Mapquest won’t help them find the end zone.”  Thanks to its dominating defense, Bama did manage to remain undefeated until a crushing overtime loss to LSU on Saturday.  The offensive struggles are exasperating to head coach Mike Shula, who ironically was hired after predecessor Mike Price did too much scoring.


Seeing his old school in need, Alexander decided to take action.  “I have plenty of touchdowns to spare,” he noted.  “So why not give back to some people who could really use them?”  The donation would not have seemed necessary earlier in the season, as the Tide scored 37 and 31 points in routs of South Carolina and Florida, respectively.  However, due in part to a season-ending injury to star wideout Tyrone Prothro, the offense has been in dire straits for the past month.  Practices often have to finish early as the stalwart defense leaves the offensive players in tears.


Alexander’s contributions will be welcomed with open arms in Tuscaloosa.  Ideally they can be applied retroactively.  In that case, the LSU defeat would be reversed, and the Tide would vault back into the national title chase.  However, if such a request is denied, Bama fans will gladly accept as many touchdowns as possible for next weekend’s Iron Bowl showdown at Auburn.  “Shaun’s example has shown us the best in human nature and encouraged all of us to reach out to our fellow man,” noted one Tide supporter.  “So now we can go and beat the snot out of Auburn!  I just hate that school and everything about it!”


With the Seahawks in first place at 7–2, Alexander is a prime candidate for NFL MVP.  However, he doesn’t just warm the hearts of Fantasy Leaguers.  He also makes dreams come true in Tuscaloosa.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Navy To Sink Streak in South Bend

Ending long sports droughts has been in vogue since last October, with the Red Sox and White Sox capturing World Series titles and Roy Williams getting the monkey off his back with a national championship.  College football has continued the trend this fall.  Two weeks ago, Rutgers won its sixth game, qualifying for its first bowl appearance since 1978.  Last Saturday, Kansas snapped a 36–game losing streak to Nebraska with a 40–15 rout of the Cornhuskers.  With no end in sight for this drought-busting momentum, Notre Dame is doomed against Navy this Saturday.


The Fighting Irish have beaten the Midshipmen a record 41 consecutive times.  Navy’s last victory came in 1963, as Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach quarterbacked a 35–14 triumph.  Back then, the famed Touchdown Jesus outside Notre Dame Stadium was still in a manger.  John Huarte turned the tables in 1964, leading Notre Dame to victory and winning a Heisman of his own.  Navy players vowed that the next time the prestigious trophy went to a Midshipman, they would dominate against the Irish.  They’re still waiting.


Notre Dame’s resurgence under first-year head coach Charlie Weis has been well-documented.  As an alumnus of the school and offensive coordinator of three Super Bowl champions in New England, Weis seems a perfect fit to wake up the echoes in South Bend.  The Irish are 6–2, with a certain BCS bowl bid awaiting them if they defeat Navy, Syracuse, and Stanford as expected.


However, all the odds are against the Fighting Irish this Saturday (if you ignore the actual odds, making them 23 1/2 point favorites).  First, having an alumnus coach them against Navy is just asking for a loss.  The last season in which a Notre Dame graduate led the Irish was 1963 – the very same year of their last setback to the Midshipmen.  After that season, Hugh Devore was replaced by Ara Parseghian, who began a 41–year trend of non-Golden Domers coaching the Irish to wins over Navy.  The administration in South Bend not only tempted fate by hiring Weis, but they recently ensured future defeats in the series by granting the new coach a contract extension.


Another reason that an upset looks inevitable can be found by observing the famous “USC-Navy Effect.”  In each of the past three years, by taking Notre Dame’s composite scores against USC and Navy, the Irish wind up with a deficit.  Due in small part to the Trojans’ 31–point victories in 2002, 2003, and 2004, Notre Dame’s composite scores against USC and Navy in those seasons were 43–67, 41–69, and 37–50, respectively.  Assuming the trend holds, given USC’s narrow 34–31 win in South Bend, the Irish can do no better than a 2–point victory on Saturday.  Or more likely, taste bitter defeat.


Finally, while Weis is widely regarded as an offensive genius, the Naval Academy was created for the purpose of – lest we forget – defense!  Midshipmen are trained to protect the nation against dangerous threats abroad, terrorism on our soil, and all threats to the American way of life.  Will defending against Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija really intimidate them?


If Notre Dame does somehow defy reason and extend the streak, Navy can still become bowl-eligible next week by defeating Temple, known as “a bye week in shoulder pads.”  However, don’t count on that scenario to be necessary.  The Fighting Irish are still holding onto those BCS dreams  for dear life.  But after Saturday, it’s likely “Gator Bowl or bust!”

Monday, November 07, 2005

T.O. Expected To Sign With Lakers

The latest suspension of Terrell Owens seems to indicate that his days with the Philadelphia Eagles are over.  Despite all his baggage, however, one high-profile franchise is apparently eager to add the controversial star.  Reports have surfaced that Owens is close to an agreement with the Los Angeles Lakers.


T.O.’s contract squabbles, petulant behavior, and persistent jabs at quarterback Donovan McNabb have far overshadowed his on-field performance this season.  The Eagles organization is clearly tired of the wide receiver’s antics and the resulting soap opera that has played out in the media.  Owens will meet with head coach Andy Reid this week to discuss the situation, but he has likely reached the point of no return.


Lakers owner Jerry Buss has followed this story from afar with great interest.  Although the Eagles want no part of an ongoing media circus, Buss gleefully recalls how his team dominated the NBA press coverage during the days of the Shaq and Kobe feud.  O’Neal’s departure and the team’s fall from the playoff picture last season made the franchise far less relevant to sports fans.  In a town that salivates over juicy storylines, the addition of Owens would again make the Lakers the talk of the league.


One question posed by many skeptics is how Los Angeles head coach Phil Jackson will react to Owens.  Reportedly, Jackson has received assurances from T.O. that after scoring baskets, he will get back on defense instead of conducting celebration dances.  Owens was granted one exception: after his first hoop as a Laker, he plans to grab the basketball, sign it with a Sharpie, and present the ball to Jack Nicholson at courtside.


Although the potential signing is primarily about buzz, Owens does have extensive basketball experience.  He played three seasons in college at Tennessee-Chattanooga, as well as five games for the Adirondack Wildcats of the United States Basketball League in 2002.  Reminded that McNabb was a member of 1996 NCAA finalist Syracuse, T.O. could not resist another chance to tweak his Eagles teammate: “They would have won the title with Brett Favre.”


Agent Drew Rosenhaus praised Owens for seeking new challenges.  He remarked, “Terrell has already achieved his chief goal in the NFL, accomplishing the historic double of being the league’s best wide receiver AND worst teammate.”  Rosenhaus added that despite T.O.’s poor public image, he has been an ideal client.  “I love to be around Terrell,” he gushed.  “Because then I’m only the second-biggest jerk in the room.”


Signing Terrell Owens will not vault the Lakers back to contention, but pairing him with Kobe Bryant will keep them in the limelight.  Less important matters, such as adding championship trophies, will be left to other teams.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Belichick Adds Spurrier To Staff For Monday's Game

After endless frustration in previous trips to New England, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning looks to break through with a victory over the Patriots on Monday night.  New England head coach Bill Belichick always seems to have an answer for Manning, and today he unveiled another ace in the hole.  Belichick signed South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier to a one-game contract, adding him to the staff for Monday’s showdown.


If past history is thrown out the window, all signs point to a Colts victory.  Indianapolis is the lone unbeaten NFL team, while the Patriots have endured an inconsistent 4–3 start.  Most notably, the Colts’ previously shaky defense has excelled, led by sack monsters Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.


However, the dominant story leading up to this contest has been Manning’s complete lack of success in Foxborough.  The superstar quarterback is 0–7 in New England, punctuated by playoff losses in each of the last two seasons.  Manning dazzled football fans with a record-setting season in 2004, but the historic campaign both began and ended with a loss in Gillette Stadium.  His only consolation thus far is that his credit card commercials are much funnier than Tom Brady’s.


Perhaps sensing that the odds were finally turning against the Super Bowl champs, Belichick looked to another Manning nemesis for assistance.  Spurrier’s Florida powerhouses defeated Tennessee in all four years of Manning’s college career.  The frustration did not end there.  In 2002, the Colts lost to Spurrier’s Washington Redskins – a very difficult feat to accomplish.  Just last Saturday, with Manning on a bye week and in Knoxville to see his jersey retired, the Old Ball Coach struck again as his Gamecocks shocked the favored Volunteers.


Many observers were surprised that Spurrier would accept such an assignment, coming five days before the much-anticipated Florida-South Carolina matchup in Columbia.  However, he plans to hold Monday’s practice as scheduled before flying to Massachusetts.  He will return immediately after the game.  Spurrier will have three major responsibilities on the New England sideline.  First, he will heckle Colts defensive tackle and Florida State product Corey Simon: “Hey Corey, where can I get some free shoes?”  Second, he will taunt Manning with his own accomplishments: “Peyton, how does this national championship ring look on my finger?  Wanna come over to my house and see my Heisman?”  Third, he will throw his visor very hard if steps one and two fail.


Indeed, to achieve a breakthrough victory, Manning will have numerous historical obstacles to overcome.  One more has emerged as Indianapolis looks to remain undefeated.  Spurrier’s salary for the game is being paid by the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Phillies Violate GM Hiring Guidelines

On Wednesday, the playoff-hungry Philadelphia Phillies introduced proven winner Pat Gillick as their new general manager. However, the hiring of the 68–year-old Gillick may come with a steep price. In their general manager search, the Phillies apparently violated major league baseball’s hiring practices. These standards dictate that any team with a general manager opening must interview a white Ivy League graduate under the age of 35.


The regulations were introduced in 2001 in response to the appalling lack of opportunities for young white Ivy League alumni. That November, 34–year-old Princeton graduate Mark Shapiro was hired as the Cleveland Indians’ general manager. Boston raised eyebrows the following November by hiring 28–year-old Yale alumnus Theo Epstein. 31–year-old Harvard man Paul DePodesta was next, tapped by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004. Last month the Texas Rangers continued the trend, promoting 28–year-old assistant general manager and Cornell graduate Jon Daniels to the general manager position.


Despite the recent firing of DePodesta and the resignation of Epstein, the commissioner’s office considers the program a resounding success.  “Theo helped the Red Sox win a long-coveted World Series,” noted a league spokesman.  “And Shapiro has reworked the Indians into one of the most promising young clubs in the league. It just proves that white guys from the Ivy League can succeed if you just give them a chance!”


Encouraged by these results, the commissioner’s office has instituted an internship program in which an Ivy League undergraduate will serve as the general manager of a major league team over each summer. To alleviate the pressure on the chosen student, the internship will be served with Kansas City, Tampa Bay, or Pittsburgh. However, that intern will be required to submit a 10–page, double-spaced paper on his experience.


In stark contrast, Gillick is a 68–year-old graduate of USC. Philadelphia interviewed four other candidates, but of those, only 55-year-old Gerry Hunsicker had a serious chance of being hired. Phillies officials insisted that presiding over the 1992 and 1993 World Series champion Blue Jays, as well as two-time ALCS participants in Baltimore and Seattle, made Gillick eminently qualified to return the Phillies to the postseason.


Major league baseball officials were not buying this line of reasoning.  “Sure, USC could dominate Harvard in football,” remarked one spokesman.  “But last I checked, Bud Selig isn’t the commissioner of football!”  Reminded that Gillick played on a College World Series champion in 1958, the official responded,  “1958? Did baseball even exist back then?”


Clearly the Phillies have incurred the wrath of the commissioner’s office in circumventing league policy. Fines and suspensions are sure to result. They had better hope that Gillick helps them to a World Series championship. Otherwise, they’ll pay a heavy price for ignoring the young Ivy League white guys.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Arizona Granted Fourth Quarter Lead For Saturday's Game

Pac-10 officials announced today that Arizona will lead UCLA by 14 points heading into the fourth quarter of their game on Saturday.  The decision is considered a formality, as the Bruins have faced double-digit fourth quarter deficits in four of their five conference matchups thus far.


“We’re making this determination now to benefit the fans,” noted a league spokesman.  “At this point, they know that the first three quarters of a UCLA football game are irrelevant.  We’re giving them the opportunity to run errands and take care of personal business during that portion of the game.  They’ll have time to get home and see if the Bruins can stage another miracle comeback.”


UCLA set the tone for such comebacks in its league opener versus downtrodden Washington, whose media guide proclaims, “Not since the heyday of grunge has pessimism been so trendy in Seattle.”  However, the Bruins trailed 17–7 after three quarters.  The hosts rallied for a 21–17 victory, capped by Maurice Drew’s touchdown run with 1:08 remaining.  A step up in class the next week against California yielded the same result.  Overcoming a 40–28 fourth quarter deficit, UCLA took the lead for good with 1:35 remaining on a touchdown reception by Drew.


Those rallies were a mere warmup for the comebacks at Washington State and Stanford.  Trailing 38–21 after three quarters in Pullman, UCLA tied the game in the last minute of regulation and triumphed in overtime after a touchdown run by, of course, Maurice Drew.  This past Saturday, just for kicks, the Bruins fell behind 24–3 with 8:26 remaining.  Again they tied the contest in the final minute of regulation (on a touchdown run by – say it with me – Maurice Drew).  The overtime victory was a foregone conclusion.  Cardinal fans were despondent over the collapse and for having a tree as a mascot.


The only conference opponent who has not followed this pattern is Oregon State.  UCLA trounced the Beavers 51–28, with no late rally necessary.  The league is investigating why Oregon State failed to live up to its role.  Sanctions may result for head coach Mike Riley and the OSU program.


Interestingly, the much-anticipated USC-UCLA matchup on December 3 poses difficult questions for Pac-10 officials.  On numerous occasions this season, the Trojans have treated the first half with indifference before taking control in the second half.  Reportedly, the league office is leaning toward skipping the first half of the showdown in the Coliseum.


Arizona head coach Mike Stoops appealed the league ruling, but his request was denied.  The Wildcats have no choice but to accept their fourth quarter lead.  Stoops knows that his team is doomed as a result.  He has two options on how to proceed.  One is to accept the ruling and use the inevitable fourth quarter rally by UCLA as a character-building lesson for his team.  The other option is to kidnap Maurice Drew.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Preseason College Basketball Poll Analysis

On Friday, the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 college basketball coaches’ poll was released.  Here are some thoughts on each of the top 10 teams.


10.  Kentucky:  Wildcat supporters are antsy to reach their first Final Four since 1998.  Way back when Ashley Judd wasn’t known solely as “the hottie Kentucky fan.”

9.  Arizona:  Wildcats, part 2.  The nation’s longest current NCAA tournament streak (21 seasons) is safe.  Then again, you’d think the same about a 15–point lead with four minutes remaining.

8.  Louisville:  One of the new members of the expanded Big East.  Unconfirmed reports claim that authorities have located a man who can name every member of the conference.

7.  Gonzaga:  Has become the latter-day UNLV: a fixture in the rankings from a mid-major conference.  Just without the hot tub scandals.  And “Viva Spokane!” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

6.  Oklahoma:  The pollsters don’t actually know if the Sooners are this good.  They were just shocked to see OU out of the top 10 in football and did their part to compensate.

5.  Michigan State:  Avid college hoops fans know that the Spartans have been to four Final Fours in seven years.  Otherwise, most people outside of Michigan think that Izzo was Stockard Channing’s character in “Grease.”

4.  Villanova:  The Wildcats (does everyone in this poll have that nickname?) are in the unusual position of facing heavy expectations.  Fortunately, Philly sports fans don’t put much pressure on the local teams.

3.  Texas:  I can’t understand the fuss about the USC-Texas debate.  The Trojans were last in the Pac-10 last year.

2.  Connecticut:  You thought I’d take the lazy route and just write UConn, didn’t you?  Anyway, the backcourt leads the nation in steals, spending more time IN court than on the court.

1.  Duke:  Finally, some long-overdue recognition for the plucky upstarts from Durham.  I was wondering when they’d actually get some media attention.  Dick Vitale cannot continue to ignore this team and its low-profile coach.


The defending champs are conspicuous by their absence.  Somehow the one point and four rebounds contributed by UNC’s returnees in the national title game failed to sway the voters.  So who will emerge victorious in Indianapolis?  How should I know – am I supposed to see the future?  If I could, wouldn’t I have made millions from gambling by now?  I’ll just have to wait and see like everyone else.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tampa Bay Changes Name To Devil Sox

After purchasing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays earlier this month, new owner Stuart Sternberg announced that he would consider a change to the club’s nickname.  The World Series title for the White Sox, on the heels of last year’s championship for the Red Sox, led to an obvious choice.  Sternberg’s team will now be known as the Devil Sox.


“Clearly it’s the right time to capitalize on the Sox trend,” noted Sternberg.  “Last year the Red Sox ended a long drought by sweeping the World Series.  The White Sox accomplished the same feat this season.  I might as well order the World Series rings for the Devil Sox right now.”  Some observers pointed out that the champions from Boston and Chicago had been waiting over 80 years for a title.  However, Sternberg responded that due to Arizona’s 2001 World Series victory, his long-suffering club is the only franchise that entered the major leagues in 1998 and still does not have a title.


The announcement was met with skepticism around the major leagues.  A fellow owner even mocked Sternberg for his decision.  “I can’t imagine changing a franchise’s name to one that will just invite ridicule,” remarked Arte Moreno, owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.


Perhaps Sternberg is engaging in wishful thinking, but any change has to be good for this franchise.  Tampa Bay is coming off a 70–91 season – the best campaign in the entire existence of the Devil Rays.  The club is somehow less famous than its AAA affiliate, the Durham Bulls.  The only memorable moment in the Devil Rays’ history was the 3000th hit for Wade Boggs in 1999.  Boggs is far better-known for winning batting titles with the Red Sox, celebrating on horseback after a Yankees’ World Series title, and allegedly downing 64 beers on a cross-country flight.


However, if the Devil Sox defy the skeptics and reach the Fall Classic, the odds could be in their favor against the National League adversary.  The Rays did have a 13–game inter-league winning streak in 2004.  Also, teams that play in domes (excluding retractable roof facilities) have never lost a World Series.  Indeed, the roof at Tropicana Field cannot be opened, so the controversy encountered this year in Houston will not be an issue.  The only possible objection from the league office is if commissioner Bud Selig decides that the venue is “just too crappy for our showcase event.”


The announcement has immediately sparked buzz in Tampa Bay.  2006 season ticket orders have already doubled from the 2005 total of 28.  Many local fans even claim that they will consider watching Devil Sox games over “Matlock.”  They know that it is time for a World Series in their town.  First the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl.  Then the Lightning skated off with the Stanley Cup.  Next, 2006 will once again be the year of the Sox.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Lessons From Philly

Sunday the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the San Diego Chargers 20–17 in a dramatic contest at Lincoln Financial Field.  Here are a few things we learned from this game.


The Chargers desperately need a running back.  The guy they had in the backfield rushed for only 7 yards on 17 carries.  Some very confused broadcasters referred to him as LT, but we all know that LT is in the Hall of Fame and consistently dominated the Eagles when he played.  Look for San Diego to start a new back next week.


Records held by Reading High School alumni are unbreakable.  It has been brought to my attention that the Chargers running back (apparently named Tomlinson) actually did pretty well in other games, scoring a touchdown in a record-tying 18 consecutive contests.  However, after the Eagles kept him out of the end zone, he still shares the record with Baltimore Colts great Lenny Moore.  Like myself, Moore is a Reading High School graduate, so I have the rare opportunity to work the alma mater into the blog.  Go Red Knights!


Hernias are good for setting records.  Donovan McNabb, playing through a sports hernia that will require surgery, set a team record with 35 completions.  This milestone was achieved in large part due to the next lesson…


The Eagles have removed runs from the playbook.  McNabb threw 54 passes, while Philadelphia only had 14 rushing attempts.  Excluding McNabb’s scrambles and kneel-downs, that number falls to 10.  Except for Brian Westbrook, look for all running backs to be dropped from the Eagles’ roster.


Crossing the country to beat a Super Bowl team once is a cakewalk.  Twice is pushing it.  On October 2, the Chargers routed the Patriots 41–17 in New England.  They were not able to accomplish the double in Philly.


NFL wide receivers want to be waiters.  After scoring the first touchdown of the game, Terrell Owens pulled out a towel and acted as though he were “serving” the ball to a customer in an upscale restaurant.  Chargers receiver Keenan McCardell mimicked this action after he caught a touchdown pass of his own.  So, if NFL wide receivers want to be waiters, and waiters want to be actors, then actors want to be NFL wide receivers.  Why not?  It got Cuba Gooding, Jr. an Oscar.


Playing college football is overrated.  San Diego’s star tight end Antonio Gates had eight catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.  Gates did play in college – basketball for Kent State.  However, he never played football for the Golden Flashes.  No matter what sport, he apparently favors teams with electrical nicknames.


False fire alarms are great for fourth quarter rallies.  With the Chargers leading 17–13 in the fourth quarter, an alarm was tripped on the club suite level.  As a result, a voice came over the public address system, requesting those present to exit in an orderly fashion.  What could possibly go wrong when a false alarm goes off in a stadium filled with 67,000 tense fans, many of them intoxicated?  In any case, the Eagles’ rally may lead to a tradition of false alarms when trailing at home in the fourth quarter.  As the Angels used the Rally Monkey, the Eagles will rely on the False Alarm Ferret.


Never rely on a perfect kicker in the last three minutes.  San Diego led 17–13 with 2:37 remaining when it lined up for a 40–yard field goal attempt.  Kicker Nate Kaeding had converted all 11 field goal attempts and all 22 extra-point attempts this season.  Naturally, Philadelphia blocked the kick and returned it for the winning touchdown.  Who didn’t see that coming?


I hope these lessons have helped you.  There’s no need to thank me – just pass along the knowledge to others.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Thomas Added To White Sox Bullpen

The south side of Chicago is abuzz with the White Sox hosting game one of the World Series on Saturday.  The club’s first American League championship since 1959 had just one downside.  Long-time White Sox star Frank Thomas missed the playoffs and most of the regular season with an injured ankle.  However, the club ensured that the Big Hurt will realize his dream of being on a World Series roster by adding him to the bullpen for the series.


Although surprising, the move does make sense given the inactivity of White Sox relievers during the American League Championship Series.  The bullpen pitched a total of 2/3 of an inning during the entire five-game series.  Unconfirmed reports claim that three White Sox relievers did not even show up for game five in Anaheim, instead opting for a day at Disneyland.  Therefore, the ceremonial addition of Thomas to the roster will not be at the expense of someone who is actually doing something.


Some may question the logic of this decision.  However, they will not criticize manager Ozzie Guillen directly, because he swears a lot and can be quite scary.  Guillen reports that Thomas will take the place of Dustin Hermanson, who has not pitched in a game since September 30 against Cleveland.  “Hermanson has been stealing money for three weeks!,” ranted the White Sox skipper.  Luis Vizcaino is another reliever who has not seen action in the postseason, but Guillen opted not to replace him on the roster with Ron Kittle.


The only potential risk is if a game goes deep into extra innings and Thomas is forced into use.  The Astros already played an 18–inning contest during the Division Series, and they had the luxury of inserting Roger Clemens late in that classic.  If necessity dictates use of the Big Hurt, the White Sox’ best hope is that he will take so long limping to the mound from the bullpen, the Houston batters will be lulled to sleep.


Most World Series observers feel that the Astros have superior relief pitching due to the presence of Brad Lidge.  However, the National Leaguers do not have a two-time MVP in their bullpen.  For Frank Thomas, his Fall Classic moment has arrived at last.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Senators Seek Nominee's Views on East Coast Bias

Today it was announced that confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers will begin on November 7.  Because Miers has never been a judge, an air of mystery surrounds her stance on numerous issues.  As is the case with all high court nominees, senators will particularly scrutinize her philosophy regarding the hot-button topic in American society: the sports media’s east coast bias.


The emphasis on this issue is clear.  Of all the 100 senators, the one scheduled to meet with Miers today is Republican Jim Bunning from Kentucky.  Bunning was a Hall of Fame pitcher in the major leagues.  Therefore, he knows how important the east coast bias subject is in comparison to trifling issues such as abortion and affirmative action.  Miers stands a good chance of earning Bunning’s support, unless she cracks jokes about the horrendous collapse of his 1964 Phillies.


In the landmark 1958 case of O’Malley v. Brooklyn, the Supreme Court ruled that east coast bias was unconstitutional.  Although the high court has not overturned this ruling, the debate has raged ever since.  Supporters of the decision trumpet it as one that champions equality to athletes across the nation.  Dissenters counter that New York teams are more important than anyone else and should always be the focus of the sports media’s attention.  They also contend that many west coast games are played too late at night to be of interest.


Although this issue seems to leave little room for gray area, a moderate group has also emerged.  These fans support east coast bias in general, but allow for heavy coverage of an occasional west coast powerhouse such as the USC football team.  However, this group will seldom be heard from on cable news scream-fests.


One of the central points on the east coast bias issue is the original intent of the Founding Fathers.  Supporters argue that the framers of the Constitution were firmly in favor of east coast bias.  “The original 13 states were all on the east coast,” noted one advocate to this side.  “So the Founding Fathers were definitely pro-east coast bias.”  A detractor countered, “Most of our favorite sports hadn’t been invented in 1787.  You’re an idiot.”


The retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor, an Arizona native and Stanford graduate, has brought anxiety to backers of the O’Malley decision.  Miers is a Texas native who conceivably could go either way on the issue.  On the one hand, she is a trusted adviser to President Bush, one-time owner of the American League West’s Texas Rangers.  However, the Lone Star State’s marquee sports franchise, the Dallas Cowboys, play in the NFC East.  The American public will demand to know where she stands.


In the coming weeks, Miers will face scrutiny like she has never encountered before.  The confirmation hearings are sure to bring tremendous stress into her life.  Perhaps a former Redskins star will advise her as he did to Justice O’Connor: “Loosen up, Harri baby.  You’re too tight.”