Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Brave Old World

In news that’s as surprising as finding a drunk person in Buckhead, the Braves have clinched another division title.  That makes it 14 in a row since 1991.  Here’s a by-the-numbers look at Atlanta’s run, from 1 to 14.


1     World Series titles during the run

2     Episodes of “World’s Scariest Police Chases” shown on TBS during a Braves rain delay

3     Winning seasons for Atlanta in the 14 years prior to 1991

4     Profanities yelled by a typical Mets fan between pitches to Chipper Jones

5     Consecutive years in which the Braves have been eliminated from the post-season at Turner Field

6     Cy Young Awards won by Atlanta pitchers during the streak

7     John Rocker’s beloved train in New York

8     Runs given up by Danny Kolb in a typical outing

9     Games won for the 1987 AL East champion Tigers by Doyle Alexander after a deadline trade from Atlanta.  In return, the Braves got some minor league stiff named Smoltz.

10    Regular season at-bats for Francisco Cabrera in 1992 before NLCS heroics

11    Franchises who have eliminated the Braves from the playoffs since 1991

12    Foam tomahawk chops swallowed by a deceased fan in an ill-fated attempt to impress his buddies

13    Rocking motions made by Leo Mazzone between pitches

14    Average age of the 2005 starting lineup


Amid the exciting development, Braves fans everywhere are exclaiming, “Yeah, whatever…”

Monday, September 26, 2005

Texas Tech Schedules Series With Junior High School

College football insiders have had a field day with the non-conference schedule of Texas Tech. Noting the ineptitude of Florida International, Sam Houston State, and Indiana State, these critics claim that the Red Raiders couldn’t possibly have had an easier slate. To prove these naysayers wrong, the school has scheduled a two-year series with Lubbock’s Evans Junior High School for 2006 and 2007.


The announcement is very controversial amid the debate about whether 13 and 14–year-olds should be competing against college players. However, Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach defended the move, noting the buzz the games will spark in the Lubbock area. “They’ll be real backyard brawls,” gushed Leach. “Besides, kickoff will be in the afternoon and won’t interfere with the Evans players’ curfews.”


The Fighting Eagles, for their part, are looking forward to the challenge. Sure, the annual tussle with Dunbar Middle School gets the juices flowing. But taking on a member of the Big 12 is the ultimate challenge. Well, except for puberty. And talking to that cute girl in algebra class who probably doesn’t know you exist.


Indeed, Evans may be as much of a challenge as this year’s opponents. Florida International, a 56–3 victim, was rated 119th among Division I-A teams in Sports Illustrated’s college football preview. Out of 119. But at least they’re in I-A. Texas Tech pounded I-AA Sam Houston State 80–21. The victims, known as the “Bearkats,” were so dizzy from the trouncing that they couldn’t spell their nickname correctly. Indiana State completed the trilogy by falling 63–7 in Lubbock. The Sycamores aren’t even competitive in I-AA, having been pummeled 42–10 by St. Francis of Indiana. Which isn’t even one of the St. Francis colleges I’ve heard of.


However, after taking a 56–0 halftime lead, Texas Tech was played to a 7–7 second half by Indiana State. This result was apparently too close for comfort for the Red Raiders. Learning their lesson, next year they’ll pick on the ninth graders.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Scandal Rocks Hall of Fame

A week ago it was a time for celebration at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Now those good feelings have been turned aside by controversy.  Last Friday the Cleveland institution announced the nominees for induction in 2006.  Today stunning reports surfaced that one of those nominees has tested negative for drugs.


The news has sent shock waves throughout the rock and roll world.  A Hall of Fame spokesman noted, “Dude, you can’t just have sex and rock and roll!  It’s sex, DRUGS, and rock and roll!  We got standards here, man.”  He then asked members of the media if he could crash on their couches.


The performer in question has not been identified, but most of the speculation has centered on John Mellencamp.  In one of his hit songs from the 1980s, Mellencamp notes that he was born in a small town.  And he lives in a small town.  Will probably die in a small town.  He describes in painstaking detail everything he does in a small town.  Yet he never says, “I do drugs in a small town.”


According to one individual who was present at the arbitrator’s hearing after the negative test, the performer claimed that he had no idea how his test could have turned up negative.  His only possible explanation was that items given to him by another rocker, believed in good faith to be drugs, turned out to be flaxseed oil.  After an awkward pause, the musician then yelled, “I’m SO wasted!”  The testimony was unconvincing to the arbitrator, who was himself stoned and failed to show up at the hearing.


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is no stranger to controversy.  Many hard-line electors contend that inductees need to have dominated the music world for a period of time.  They feel that rockers who have been consistently good for a long period of time, but never the best, fall short of the Hall of Fame criteria.  Those subjects are viewed as enjoyable, lively debate.  However, this new issue is a major setback to the Hall of Fame’s public image.  The Hall has always been proactive in reassuring the American people that its members do drugs, most notably with its “Just Say Blow” campaign.  Some major spin control is now in order.


The performer’s identity will surely be revealed soon.  He’ll learn a painful lesson: Rock and roll is no place to be drug-free.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

From Heel to Steel

After week 2 of the NFL season, Pittsburgh’s Willie Parker is the surprise rushing leader in the AFC.  Parker played at UNC, so as a proud Carolina alumnus I’d like to share my favorite memories of him as a Tar Heel.  Uhhh….. Give me a minute….. I swear, I saw him on the field a few times….. Hold on…..


Parker has rushed for a total of 272 yards in the Steelers’ blowout victories over Tennessee and Houston.  That’s 91 yards more than he gained in his entire senior season at UNC.  Today he’s a vital part of a Super Bowl contender.  Two years ago, he wasn’t considered useful to a team that went 2–10 with a loss to Duke.  Yes, Duke does have a football program – I double-checked to make sure.


Parker did have some moments as a Tar Heel, primarily in his first two years.  He rushed for a career-high 158 yards as a freshman in a victory over Maryland.  His sophomore season was highlighted by a 131–yard effort in a Peach Bowl win over Auburn.  Coach John Bunting rewarded him by giving him the next two years off.  As his former teammate Julius Peppers went on to stardom in the NFL, Parker was stuck in the NCAA witness protection program.


Initially, Parker had wanted to attend East Carolina.  He later changed his mind in favor of UNC, even though his high school coach advised against it.  Parker has made this quote about that decision: “The only time I didn’t listen to him was the biggest mistake of my life.”  I’m pretty sure that’s the only time in history a pro football star has said, “I should have gone to East Carolina.”


19 running backs were selected in the 2004 NFL draft, but Parker was not one of them.  The 19 selections included standouts such as Steven Jackson and Julius Jones, but I’m sure a couple of the others are selling insurance right now.  Meanwhile, the Steelers decided to take a look at the undrafted Tar Heel.  And that may have been by accident.  Rumor has it, head coach Bill Cowher demanded to the front office, “Make sure Parker gets invited to training camp!”  Apparently a huge fan of “Sex and the City,” Cowher was crushed when Sarah Jessica was a no-show.


Parker (Willie, that is) made the team last year and rushed for 102 yards in the regular season finale at Buffalo.  After Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis went down with injuries in the pre-season, he stepped in as the starting running back.  Now he’s the darling of fantasy league owners everywhere.  Meanwhile, his old team in Chapel Hill has struggled mightily on the ground, rushing for a total of 118 yards in losses to Georgia Tech and Wisconsin.  Facing a tough task against arch-rival NC State’s stifling defense this Saturday, the Carolina coaching staff reportedly contacted Parker, telling him, “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE come back and play for us!”


But Parker will be busy trying to take down the New England Patriots this weekend.  Sure, starting against the Super Bowl champs may not compare to those glorious memories of sitting on the bench against Wake Forest.  But it will just have to do.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Stanford Almost Knocks Off UC Davis

Coming off a season-opening win over Navy, Stanford had an opportunity for an even greater victory in Palo Alto on Saturday night.  But its valiant effort came up just short as the Cardinal fell 20–17 to a powerhouse UC Davis team.  The victorious Aggies, in transition from Division II, are only two years away from becoming a full-fledged member of Division I–AA.


For much of the evening, it looked as though the Cardinal would pull off the unthinkable.  Thanks to two touchdowns off fumbles, Stanford held a 17–0 lead midway through the second quarter.  But you can’t keep a juggernaut like UC Davis down for long.  The Aggies closed to within 17–14 in the third quarter and even missed two potential game-tying field goal attempts in the fourth.  Finally, the plucky Cardinal succumbed to the inevitable as UC Davis scored the winning touchdown with eight seconds remaining.  Stanford can find consolation in gaining close to 200 yards of total offense against a team that is clearly ready for Division I–AA right now.


It’s a wonder that the Cardinal was able to stay competitive in this contest.  In their first two games, the Aggies only lost to New Hampshire and Portland State by a combined six points.  Also, UC Davis is a member of the vaunted Great West Conference, whose other members need no introduction: Cal Poly, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, South Dakota State, and Southern Utah.  When you travel to football hotbeds like Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Pac-10 stadiums are small potatoes.  “UC Davis is a great program,” noted Stanford head coach Walt Harris.  “Because that’s what their conference is named, and I’m sure the people who created it wouldn’t lie.”


Prior to Saturday night, Stanford had never lost to a non-Division I-A program.  That amazing streak is now history, as the Cardinal could no longer buck the odds.  UC Davis had not faced a current member of the Pac-10 since 1939, so it had 66 years to prepare a winning game plan for this matchup.  The Aggies also had the revenge factor, as Stanford had won the only previous meeting between the schools, 59–0 in 1932.  Members of that UC Davis team could not be reached for comment, but their corpses are undoubtedly smiling today.


The remainder of Stanford’s home schedule looks to be anticlimactic.  AP #24 Oregon, #18 Arizona State, #25 UCLA, #13 California, and #16 Notre Dame are clearly not on the same level as UC Davis.  Hopefully the Cardinal fans savored their one opportunity to see a team like the Aggies.


Next week UC Davis stays on the road to take on Sacramento State.  Hopefully the Aggies can regain their focus after the huge scare they received from Stanford.

Friday, September 16, 2005

NHL Outlaws Old Guys

Mark Messier is unquestionably one of the greatest winners in National Hockey League history.  Five of his Edmonton Oiler teams skated away with the Stanley Cup.  He also earned a place in New York sports lore by leading the Rangers to a memorable title in 1994.  But this week Messier succumbed to an opponent he just couldn’t defeat: the NHL’s campaign to get rid of old guys.


Messier is 44 years old and just one of several 40–something stars who have retired in recent weeks.  Other notable players who have called it quits include 42–year-olds Ron Francis and Al MacInnis, as well as Scott Stevens, 41.  All future Hall of Famers, they seemingly ended their careers voluntarily.  In reality, they were forced out by the NHL’s zero tolerance policy toward players over 40.


The campaign was instituted by league officials to address marketing concerns after last season’s strike.  Having faded in popularity within the American sports landscape, the NHL decided to re-position itself to our youth-obsessed culture.  The league endlessly trumpeted Sidney Crosby, the #1 draft pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins, simply because he’s 17.  The fixation on youth has gone so far that the front line for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks includes two characters from “The OC.”


However, this policy may backfire for the NHL, having already caused one major embarassment.  The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team provided some of the most magical moments in American sports history.  Yet not one member of that group is currently playing in the National Hockey League.  Clearly they face an enemy more powerful than the Soviets.  Do you believe in ageism – yes!


Some players remain defiant of the order.  Stalwarts such as Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, and Brett Hull are at least 40 and still active.  Hull obstinately looks forward to playing under new coach Wayne Gretzky for the Phoenix Coyotes.  But don’t expect the league office to yield.  Reached for comment about these holdouts, commissioner Gary Bettman remarked, “We have a team in Phoenix?”


It should be noted that Mario Lemieux turns 40 on October 5.  To overcome NHL officials and take his place on the ice, he’ll truly have to be Super Mario.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Red Sox Nation Joins the UN

Today at its New York headquarters, the United Nations officially welcomed Red Sox Nation as its newest member.  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that the General Assembly was greatly impressed by Red Sox Nation’s new-found prosperity after 86 years of hard times.  Annan denied claims that the move was motivated by his desire to procure “wicked awesome seats” in Fenway Park for the postseason.


Red Sox Nation’s membership had been blocked for many years because UN members were skeptical that the group could succeed in New York.  A seemingly certain entry in 1986 was bungled at the last minute.  More recently, its 2003 membership bid was denied at the 11th hour due to the efforts of a delegate with an otherwise inconsequential stint in New York.


President Bush harshly denounced the move amid rumors that he plans to invade Red Sox Nation.  The president cited Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz as evidence that Red Sox Nation is harboring weapons of mass destruction.  He also lambasted Carl Yastrzemski, Red Sox Nation’s UN ambassador, for having “a really hard name to spell.”  Reportedly President Bush made the same criticism of Jim Rice.


Despite opposition from the president, Red Sox Nation’s membership was endorsed by 13 of the 15 UN Security Council members.  The only other dissenter was Raider Nation, apparently still bitter about the “Tuck Rule Game” and holding a grudge toward all New England sports fans.  Annan reportedly incensed Raider Nation by playfully re-enacting Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning kick from that matchup, but other Security Council members commented, “That’s just Kofi being Kofi.”


Red Sox Nation is eager to work with all the United Nations agencies.  It has already been very active with the World Health Organization in the hopes that the WHO can assist Boston’s injury-plagued pitching staff.  Overall, the UN is confident in this belief: you can’t work for world peace without a Green Monster.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Package of Cupcakes

Next Saturday, opponents for Big East Conference football teams include Georgia Tech, Virginia, Maryland, Nebraska, and Oregon State.  This group represents a major step up in class from foes of the past weekend.  Then again, how could it not?


League favorite Louisville had a bye week.  It still faced tougher competition than most of its conference mates.  Four of the seven opponents were from Division 1–AA programs, and only one of those four was ranked in last week’s 1–AA Top 25.  Indeed, this group represented not a murderers’ row, but a jaywalkers’ row.  Here are the credentials of the not-so-magnificent seven:


Penn State (defeated Cincinnati 42–24):  Has fallen far from its once lofty perch in recent years, playing in just one bowl game over the past five seasons.  Making it by far the class of this bunch.

Ohio (defeated Pittsburgh 16–10 in OT):  Notable more for what it’s not: NOT Ohio State; Located in Athens but NOT the Georgia Bulldogs; Led by former Nebraska head coach but NOT Tom Osborne;  Unfortunately for Panther fans, NOT Dave Wannstedt’s first win.

Buffalo (lost to Syracuse 31–0):  NOT the Bills (okay, I’ll stop that).  Has been shut out in three straight games, all by Big East schools (the other two were both against UConn).  Rated 118 among 119 Division 1–A programs in Sports Illustrated’s season preview – Take that, Florida International!

Villanova (lost to Rutgers 38–6):  Gave eventual champion North Carolina a scare in the Sweet 16.  Oh, we’re talking football?  Okay, it’s the alma mater of Howie Long and Brian Westbrook.  A possible Final Four contender – sorry, still thinking hoops.

Wofford (lost to West Virginia 35–7):  Ranked #22 in last week’s Division 1–AA poll by The Sports Network.  Located in Spartanburg, SC, a city whose website proclaims, “Service Is Our Business.”

Florida A&M (lost to South Florida 37–3):  Located in the same city as a college football powerhouse (Florida State).  Has a great marching band.  Sounds like a juggernaut if you break up its name, since Florida is a top 10 team, and A&M is a contender in the Big XII.

Liberty (lost to Connecticut 59–0):  Founded by Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell.  Linebackers defend not with crushing hits, but by sitting in judgment of opposing ballcarriers’ lifestyles.


Although the competition gets tougher next Saturday, Rutgers has some good news: they’re next for Buffalo.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Dodgers Injury Limericks

There was an outfielder named Drew

Whose times in the lineup were few

Watchful fans were alert

That he always was hurt

Except when his contract was due.


Another disabled Dodger, but one who has excelled for them:


Gagne was the Dodgers closer

To hitters he was a bulldozer

His Canadian heat

Would make them dead meat

As he told them, “Take off, you hosers!”


And a classic injured Dodger moment:


There was a hurt slugger named Kirk

Whose pinch-hitting seemed doomed not to work

Though his knees were a wreck

He went deep off of Eck

And the fans went completely berserk.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Curse of the Brand-ino

Seeking their first playoff birth in 12 years, the Phillies lost 2–1 to the Astros Tuesday night.  The defeat was Philadelphia’s 11th straight against Houston.  Let me repeat – 11 IN A ROW!  Something to be expected – if you’re Vanderbilt against Tennessee.  But not from a major league club with postseason aspirations.  Then again, the Phils may be fighting a force more powerful than a Roger Clemens fastball: The Curse of the Brand-ino.


Brandon Duckworth is a right-handed pitcher who came up through the Phillies organization.  He went 15–18 over parts of three seasons in Philadelphia before being packaged with two minor leaguers in a November 2003 trade for Astros closer Billy Wagner.  Wagner has been a great closer for the Phils, so at first glance the deal appears to have benefited the club.  But in reality, Philadelphia may have cost itself dearly by incurring Duckworth’s wrath, calling to mind the old saying, “Hell hath no fury like a marginal major league pitcher scorned.”


Before 2004, the Phillies always got the better of the Astros when it counted.  Bobby Abreu is in Philadelphia’s outfield because Houston left him unprotected in the expansion draft, allowing Tampa Bay to select him and trade him to the Phillies for the legendary Kevin Stocker.  That was Philly’s best trade since 1992, when the Astros wanted Jason Grimsley so much, they gave up Curt Schilling to get him.  Most significantly, there was the 1980 NLCS.  Down 5–2 after 7 innings in the decisive fifth game and facing Nolan Ryan on the mound, the Phils managed to win in 10 innings.  They went on to win their only World Series championship, while the Astros settled for watching themselves on tape in “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.”  Jackie Earle Haley paled in comparison to Tug McGraw’s joyous leap off the mound.


But since Philadelphia dealt Duckworth, the club is 0 for 11 against Houston.  Rumor has it that he put a hex on the Phillies, vowing that they would never defeat the Astros again.  Duckworth apparently hoped that as a pitcher who places a curse on his old team, he would go on to be a record-setting home run hitter.  Or maybe a fat guy who plays with hangovers, I’m not sure.


Although Duckworth has spent more time in AAA than with the big league club since the trade, his shadow looms large over this series.  Taking no chances, Houston recalled him prior to the trip to Philly.  Two one-run victories have resulted, and the Astros even defeated Wagner in Tuesday night’s game.  Duckworth surely put his Billy Wagner voodoo doll to use in the ninth inning.


Most baseball observers agree that a right-handed pitcher acquired after the 2003 season has helped put the Astros into the wild-card lead.  But Philadelphia knows that his name is not Roger Clemens.  Tonight the Phillies have their last chance of the season to overcome the Curse of the Brand-ino.  If they don’t, the losing streak may last 86 years.  Note to security personnel at Citizens Bank Park: if Duckworth shows up with a goat, let the goat in!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Temple's National Title Hopes Dashed

Mr. Cosby, I’m afraid I have some bad news. Your Temple football team will not be taking home the national championship this season. The Owls opened their 2005 campaign with a heartbreaking 63–16 loss at Arizona State. The outcome remained in doubt until late in the first quarter.


The defeat opens Temple’s first season as an affiliate member of the Mid-American Conference. Fearful of being dominated by the Owls for years to come, the Big East voted to evict Temple after the 2004 season. The move saddened college football fans, who mourned the loss of the legendary Temple-Rutgers rivalry. They can only hope that the Owls start a similar tradition with MAC member Western Michigan, its September 24 opponent.


Showing the confidence of a gridiron powerhouse, Temple scheduled eight teams that played in bowls last season. The team’s aggressive defense was particularly up to the task after head coach Bobby Wallace enlisted the assistance of Temple basketball coach John Chaney, who knows how to get his players to hit people. However, the dreams of an undefeated season are now gone. Having spoiled a potential Temple-USC Rose Bowl matchup, Arizona State will likewise hope to derail the Trojans in Tempe on October 1.


Next week the Owls stay on the road to take on Wisconsin. The opening loss means that the ESPN GameDay crew will choose not to be in Madison, instead covering the Ohio State-Texas matchup in Columbus. Temple does hope to rebound from the disappointing defeat to achieve a historic double later this season: defeating Miami of Ohio and Miami of Florida. Both must travel to Philly, and after losing 12 consecutive games to their former conference mates from Coral Gables, the Owls feel that they are due.


But Thursday’s loss brings more bad news for title-starved Philadelphia sports fans. They can still hope for the best from the other tenant of Lincoln Financial Field. But to die-hard Owls fans, cheering on the Eagles just isn’t the same.