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.
Friday, December 30, 2005
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.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
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
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
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
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 firemattmillen.net website has appeared, because the existence of firemillen.net, firemillen.com, fire-millen.com, and firemillen.org 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”