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.