Friday, December 29, 2006

Barry Larkin Signs With Giants

The San Francisco Giants made a big splash in the free-agent market yesterday with the signing of former Oakland A's left-hander Barry Zito. Today the Giants added another Barry to join Zito and Barry Bonds. San Francisco has reportedly agreed to terms with former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin.

The signing continues the club's efforts to be the best collection of Barrys in the history of major league baseball. The strategy was apparently inspired by Barry Bonds's chase for Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. On every road trip, the Giants expect to hear endless "Barry Sucks" chants. However, if the team is stocked with Barrys, opposing fans may get confused and forget which Barry they're booing. In that scenario, they would likely stop booing and put down their fake syringes as Bonds bids for history.

The strategy has made life hectic for general manager Barry Sabean, formerly known as Brian. Landing Zito was a huge coup after the loss of ace Jason Schmidt, who had refused to change his name to Barry Schmidt. The club will not go so far as to alter its nickname from the Giants to the Barrys. However, the team's new logo has been unveiled, showing a game of catch between a giant Barry Manilow and a giant Barry Gibb.

The signing of Larkin brings one of the all-time great shortstops out of retirement. The 1995 National League MVP was a 12-time All-Star who won three Gold Gloves. Larkin will turn 43 in April, so many observers felt that he was too young to play for the Giants. He will likely have to change positions, due to the presence of Barry Vizquel in San Francisco.

Official terms of the deal have not been released. Larkin last played in 2004, batting .289 with 8 home runs and 44 RBI in 111 games. Those pedestrian numbers and the layoff surely reduced what he could command in this free-agent market. Preliminary reports indicate that Larkin signed a one-year deal for $22 million.

While the Giants are thrilled with the signing, fans in Cincinnati are far more critical. Larkin has been involved with the Washington Nationals since his retirement, but his entire playing career was with the Reds. He won a World Series title with the Nasty Boys in 1990 and is a Cincinnati native. One fan summed up the city's disappointment: "Barry Larkin is as synonymous with the Cincinnati Reds as mug shots are with the Bengals."

Larkin's return will delay his Baseball Hall of Fame eligibility. Another Hall of Fame welcomed Barry Sanders last year. But as the Detroit Lions know too well, not all Barrys return.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ohio State Granted NFC Playoff Berth

With one week remaining in the NFL season, two postseason berths are still available in the AFC. However, a surprise decision from the league office means that all the NFC playoff teams have been decided. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced today that the Ohio State Buckeyes will be the sixth seed in the NFC.

In explaining the decision, the commissioner cited the unworthiness of the five 7-8 teams who had been in contention for the last NFC slot. The New York Giants were in the best position, despite losing six of their last seven contests. Three weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers were 4-8 after a 38-10 loss at home. The Atlanta Falcons have dropped four consecutive home games - the last of which snapped a four-game losing streak for the Carolina Panthers. Not to be outdone, the St. Louis Rams fell seven times in an eight-game span this season. As Goodell remarked of the 7-8 group, "That's the worst quintet since New Kids On The Block!"

The league decided to reward Ohio State for being far more consistent. Therefore, no one needs to waste time analyzing complex playoff scenarios for undeserving recipients. One NFL insider admitted, "at a certain point, I had no idea what the tie-breakers were. I just figured the team whose website got the most hits would get in."

The development means that the Buckeyes will be taken out of the BCS national championship game. Instead, a month-long debate will be settled as Michigan and Florida actually get to face each other on the field. Wisconsin will take the Wolverines' place in the Rose Bowl, preserving the traditional Big Ten-Pac 10 matchup with USC. The trickle-down effect for Big Ten bowl participants means that either the Insight Bowl or the Champs Sports Bowl will be cancelled. No one is expected to notice.

As the #6 seed, Ohio State will go on the road to take on Philadelphia or Dallas. After dealing with Eagles fans, any future trip to Ann Arbor would be considered a walk in the park. However, storylines would be particularly abundant if the Buckeyes take on the Cowboys. It would be OSU's second high-profile trip to Texas this season, and Dallas wide receiver Terry Glenn could face his old school. Also, if the Ohio State band gets to play at halftime, it would love for Terrell Owens to dot the "i" in Script Ohio. No athlete is more committed to the letter "I."

Participating in the NFL playoffs will pose huge challenges for a team accustomed to college competition. The Buckeyes will not get to play in Arizona, where it has made a habit of winning postseason games. Also, as a precaution, coach Jim Tressel plans to sit Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith at the start of the game. After watching Carson Palmer last year, Tressel became convinced that any Heisman QB making his NFL playoff debut with an Ohio team would get injured during the first series. Most fans do not expect a college team to be competitive against an NFL opponent, but a Carolina Panthers official disagrees. He remarked, "Chris Weinke lost 17 starts in a row for us. Don't you think he'd be more confident in a Florida State uniform?"

Ohio State is definitely a longshot as it enters the NFL playoffs. However, last year the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl as a #6 seed. No matter how far the Buckeyes go, they will represent something that many thought was impossible: a college football team in a playoff.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Quick Look At NFL Week 16

The Green Bay Packers opened the NFL's week 16 Thursday night with a 9-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the latest potential finale for Brett Favre. It is too soon to say how many "final games" will be played by the legendary quarterback, but he is unlikely to threaten Roger Clemens's record. Here's a quick look at the remaining 15 NFL games this week.


Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are desperate for offense as an old AFL rival comes to town. So Daryle Lamonica will start at quarterback.


Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers: In honor of the 7-7 Steelers and 6-6 Pitt Panthers, NASCAR will hold the Pittsburgh 500 at Heinz Field. Look for the Steelers to pick up speed down the stretch, and Pitt to run out of gas.

Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons: Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke has lost 17 straight starts. In the off-season, he plans to sign with the Washington Generals.

Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions: A week after squeaking by 3-11 Tampa Bay, the Bears visit the 2-12 Lions. Next week, they take on Temple.

Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans: It's no surprise that the Colts' much-maligned defense rose to the occasion against Cincinnati. Around the Bengals, you often hear, "Will the defense please rise?"

New England Patriots @ Jacksonville Jaguars: Last week, Jacksonville surrendered three defensive touchdowns against Tennessee. The Jags vow that this Sunday, their offense will tackle better.

New Orleans Saints @ New York Giants: The Giants have a losing record at home. So like last year's visit from the Saints, they're calling this one a "road game."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Cleveland Browns: The Bucs hope for a rare cold-weather victory as, oh, you don't care...

Tennessee Titans @ Buffalo Bills: The Titans have amazed everyone by winning five straight. Just don't use the word "Miracle" around Bills fans.

Washington Redskins @ St. Louis Rams: If Washington University is in St. Louis, why isn't St. Louis University in Washington?

Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers: In high school, Niners QB Alex Smith handed off to Bush (Reggie). Now he does the same to Gore (Frank). Staying with the 2000 election theme, we'll have to wait a month to find out who wins this game.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Denver Broncos: Chad Johnson got to town early to practice his snow angels. Meanwhile, Isiah Thomas has already accused Denver of running up the score.

San Diego Chargers @ Seattle Seahawks: Expect the Chargers' team plane to make multiple landings in Seattle. With LT on board, you can't have just one touchdown.


Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys: Having lost in the Superdome and the RCA Dome, the Eagles are thankful for the hole in the Texas Stadium roof. Like the Sixers and Flyers, they can't win indoors.

New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins: In last week's victory over Minnesota, Jets QB Chad Pennington passed for a career-high 339 yards. He credited an inspiring pep talk from his old Marshall coach, Matthew McConaughey.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rocky Balboa & Allen Iverson: A Comparison

A Philadelphia icon returned to action today, as Rocky Balboa opened in theatres across America. Rocky's reappearance came one day after another sports legend, Allen Iverson, said goodbye to the City of Brotherly Love. One is known as AI, while the other had the Eye of the Tiger. Here's a comparison of The Italian Stallion and The Answer.

Rocky: Was focused in the ring with Apollo.
Iverson: Will focus on a ring with Carmelo.

Rocky: Trainer Mickey died of a heart attack.
Iverson: Gives his coaches heart attacks.

Rocky: Took hundreds of shots in a fight.
Iverson: Takes hundreds of shots in a game.

Rocky: Was mates for life with Adrian.
Iverson: Was teammates for 27 games with Adrian Caldwell.

Rocky: Had Cold War battle with Ivan Drago.
Iverson: Had Cold War battle with Larry Brown.

Rocky: For a while, his statue was outside the 76ers' home arena.
Iverson: After December 8, he stayed outside the 76ers' home arena.

Rocky: Immortalized while jumping atop the Art Museum steps.
Iverson: Immortalized while yelling, "We talkin' bout practice!"

Rocky: Fought in six movies, although everyone forgets about Rocky V.
Iverson: Played for six Philly coaches, although everyone forgets about Randy Ayers.

Rocky: Trained by chasing a chicken.
Iverson: Has played with lots of turkeys.

Rocky: Had a great moment, proposing to Adrian in the snow.
Iverson: Had lots of great moments with Eric Snow.

Rocky: Has occasional squabbles with Paulie.
Iverson: Has occasional battles with Paul Pierce and Chris Paul.

Rocky: Likes to punch ribs.
Iverson: New teammates like to punch Knicks.

Rocky: Trained Tommy Gunn.
Iverson: Played with Kenny Thomas, and likes guns.

Rocky: Focus of an Oscar-winning movie.
Iverson: Won MVP, like Oscar Robertson.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas Characters' Sports Counterparts

Athletes have often been compared to Christmas figures, even going back to the story of the Nativity. Mark Messier was The Messiah, and A.C. Green was the Virgin. There have been plenty of wise men – just none affiliated with the Arizona Cardinals.

Today’s athletes also relate to the secular Christmas icons. I made a list and checked it twice. Grab some egg nog and read on…

Santa Claus: Greg Oden. He’s a big man who wears a red uniform and came onto the scene in December.

Rudolph: Kobe Bryant. People say he doesn’t fit in with the others. But he can really light it up.

Dasher: Devin Hester

Dancer: Chad Johnson

Prancer: Terrell Owens

Vixen: Maria Sharapova

Comet: Sheryl Swoopes. Of the Houston Comets.

Cupid: Davis Love III

Donner: Pat Riley. Like Richard Donner, Riley directs Superman – when he’s healthy.

Blitzen: Shawne Merriman

The Grinch: Kenny Rogers. He was a mean one, but in October his heart grew three sizes.

Ebeneezer Scrooge: Alex Rodriguez. He’s rich as can be, no one seems to love him, and he’s haunted by ghosts from the past.

Tiny Tim: Tim Dwight

George Bailey: Vladimir Guerrero. He helps a guardian Angel (Mike Scioscia) achieve his goals.

Frosty: Allen Iverson. His relationship with the 76ers.

Notice that college football was not featured above. Because it can’t truly be “the most wonderful time of the year” until we get rid of the BCS.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Anaheim Ducks: A Mighty Paradox

For the first 13 years of its mostly forgettable existence, Orange County’s National Hockey League franchise was known as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. In June, the team formally simplified its name to the Anaheim Ducks. So far this season, the Ducks have dominated the NHL, with just three regulation losses in their first 34 games. The development has brought up an interesting paradox. Once they stopped being called Mighty, the Ducks actually became mighty.

The Ducks continued their stellar play Wednesday night with a 2-1 road victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. Star forward Teemu Seelane scored both goals, and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere won his ninth straight start. Anaheim’s 12-1-2 away record is the best after 15 games in NHL history. The 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings had set the previous mark – after changing their name from the Potent Red Wings.

This excellence was rarely seen when the team was known as the Mighty Ducks. The franchise only made the post-season 4 times in 13 seasons with that name, highlighted by a 2003 run to the Stanley Cup finals led by Giguere. The nickname was so misleading, the Anaheim broadcasters reportedly used quote signs whenever saying the word “Mighty.” The name, of course, came from a 1992 movie from Disney, which owned the team until 2005. No professional sports franchise has ever been successful when named after an Emilio Estevez film. The NBA still has nightmares over the disastrous Cincinnati Breakfast Clubs.

With Disney no longer in the picture, management determined that the “Mighty” part of the name was no longer necessary. Like the University of Oregon, Anaheim was happy to just be the Ducks. The revision also helped the team’s public image. Not only did “Mighty Ducks” bring snickers from sports fans, but it was also a reminder of the AFLAC duck’s notorious steroids scandal.

Good things happened almost immediately after the name change, as star defenseman Chris Pronger was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers less than two weeks later. The spirit of change also extended to the team’s home arena, as the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim was renamed the Honda Center. Surprisingly, the switch had nothing to do with corporate sponsors. It was made because most actual ducks like to drive Civics.

After observing Anaheim’s great play on the ice, others are considering dropping “Mighty” from their names. Producers of one 1998 box office disappointment feel that they can earn big bucks by re-releasing it as simply Joe Young. Also, Mira Sorvino is confident that changing Mighty Aphrodite to just Aphrodite could elevate her Oscar-winning performance from Best Supporting Actress to Best Actress. The rights to any lost “Mighty” names will reportedly be assumed by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who plan to reunite as the Mighty Mighty Mighty Mighty Mighty Mighty Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

The Ducks look to continue their hot streak this Saturday against the Sharks in San Jose. By demonstrating their mightiness after dropping “Mighty” from their name, the Ducks have shown that actions speak louder than words. Or if you prefer, slapshots speak louder than quacks.

Monday, December 11, 2006

An "LT" Tribute To LaDainian Tomlinson's Record

Sunday in San Diego, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson broke the NFL single-season record for touchdowns in a 48-20 victory over the Denver Broncos. His third score of the contest gave him 29 on the season with three games remaining. Like Lawrence Taylor, Tomlinson is an LT who will wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To pay tribute to Tomlinson’s record, here is how some other LT’s relate to the San Diego Super Charger.

Lofa Tatupu: The Seattle Seahawks linebacker is a teammate of the previous record-holder, Shaun Alexander - a reminder that the best hope to contain LT is to put him on the cover of Madden NFL 08.

Lee Trevino: The golfing great won six major championships during his career. LT can relate to an athlete who knows how to get six.

Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight will also break a record soon. After he screams at the record and throws it across the court.

Liv Tyler: She appeared in the Lord of the Rings films. LT wants a ring of his own, and he’s much better in the open field than Frodo.

Louisiana Tech: The school’s Karl Malone was like LT as a high-scoring future Hall of Famer. However, a SportsCenter commercial showed that LT cannot be a Mailman.

Lawrence Tureaud: That’s the birth name of Mr. T, who pities the fool who tries to tackle LT.

Lincoln Tunnel: The tunnel goes under the Hudson River. LT lines up behind Philip Rivers.

Lucy’s Trickery: Unlike Charlie Brown, LT can score because Lucy doesn’t keep the ball away from him.

LSU Tigers: They ended last season with a bowl victory over Miami. LT hopes to end this season with a Bowl victory IN Miami.

Lakers-Toronto: Like LT, Kobe Bryant put up ridiculous numbers when these teams met in January. Even LT can’t score 81 points in a game – well, maybe against the Raiders.

Leaning Tower: When trying to tackle LT, defenders are as off-balance as the Pisa landmark.

Liz Taylor: With 29 touchdowns, LT has equaled Taylor’s number of husbands.

Lake Tahoe: The ski resorts will be busy in early February, as LT hopes to be.

Love Train: The party song plays as the Coors Light Silver Bullet Train brings freezing conditions. This might be the only way to cool off LT.

Lawrence Tynes: The Kansas City Chiefs kicker gave LT his last loss with a 53-yard field goal with six seconds remaining on October 22. Next Sunday, LT can give KC’s playoff hopes the boot.

Leo Tolstoy: LT is a rusher who easily goes over 1000 yards. Tolstoy was a Russian who easily went over 1000 pages.

Left Tackle: That’s the position of San Diego rookie starter Marcus McNeill. His team is 11-2, and he blocks for a guy who spends most of the game in the end zone. I think Marcus likes the NFL.

Lap-Top: Computers are influenced by Bill Gates, while LT is helped by Antonio Gates. In either setting, you’ll have crashes.

Looney Tunes: Defenders have the same success in trapping LT as Wile E. Coyote does with the Road Runner.

Lily Tomlin: On The West Wing, she worked with Martin Sheen, who received six Emmy nominations as President Bartlet but never won the award. LT also works with a Marty who finds trophies to be elusive.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

NBA's Atlantic Division To Merge With Big East Conference

In the early stages of the NBA season, the Atlantic Division has been notable for the abysmal performance of all its members. As a result, league officials have decided that it would be inappropriate for Atlantic teams to continue playing against NBA competition. Instead, these teams will test themselves against other opponents in the northeast. Commissioner David Stern announced that the Atlantic Division has merged with the Big East Conference.

The announcement gives hope to these franchises that they can once again be competitive on the basketball court. The collegiate ranks, even with the presence of the second-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers, should provide more opportunities for victories. The rest of the NBA has not been kind to the Atlantic Division, with the New Jersey Nets holding first place at 7-12. Only three teams outside the division have a worse record, and Atlantic teams have gone 7-29 against the Western Conference. Since the start of the NBA season, only Michael Richards and the Republican Party have fared worse.

Despite the teams’ struggles, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese is delighted to welcome five new members to the league. Recent conference realignment caused the Big East to lose three schools to the ACC while picking up five from Conference USA. When the dust settled, the Big East was left with a mere 16 members. Tranghese found that shortage unacceptable, lamenting, “That’s small enough that most of our schools actually play each other. I mean, how can we honestly have ‘Big’ in our name if everyone is in the same country?”

Now with 21 members, including the Toronto Raptors from Canada, Tranghese’s concerns have been addressed. Immediately, some classic backyard rivalries will be ignited. The Nets will battle for Garden State supremacy with Seton Hall and Rutgers. The 76ers will square off with Villanova for bragging rights in Philadelphia. And St. John’s and the New York Knicks will get it on in Madison Square Garden. Red Storm sophomore Anthony Mason, Jr. will provide Knicks fans with a reminder of better days, when his father’s teams were a fixture in the postseason. Things could be even better this time, as neither Michael Jordan nor Reggie Miller is expected to be in the building.

Storylines will be particularly abundant for the Boston Celtics. A showdown versus Louisville will bring a grudge match with former Celtics coach Rick Pitino, and current Boston coach Doc Rivers will get to take on his old school, Marquette. Games with Notre Dame will determine who has the toughest leprechaun in all of sports. However, the presence of Sebastian Telfair, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, and Kendrick Perkins on the Celtics’ roster does provide reason for concern. The team might not have enough college experience to compete in the Big East.

Other subplots are sure to provide intrigue. When New York’s Quentin Richardson and Philadelphia’s Steven Hunter competed for DePaul, the Blue Demons were still in Conference USA. They won’t have to miss out on the Big East experience any longer. A New Jersey – Connecticut matchup will enable former Huskies Marcus Williams, Clifford Robinson, and Josh Boone to take on their old school. And at least for the time being, Allen Iverson is in the same conference as the Georgetown Hoyas. His old school could even be a plausible trade destination, as The Answer only seems to be able to coexist with coaches named John Thompson.

The recent expansion could make the Big East Conference tournament particularly interesting. Nine teams will be excluded from the 12-team field. If the Knicks make it that far, they’ll be very unlikely to win the title. The Big East champion must be able to win repeatedly in Madison Square Garden.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Crash Davis For Being Stuck In The Minor Leagues

ESPN Classic viewers enjoy regular installments of the Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame… series, hosted by Brian Kenny. As noted in two of my previous columns, the series is overly focused on real-life sports figures such as Bill Buckner and Chris Webber. To address this issue, I expanded the approach to take a deeper look at the perceived athletic shortcomings of fictional characters. Previously I chronicled the top 5 reasons you can’t blame Apollo Creed for losing to Rocky Balboa and the top 5 reasons you can’t blame Charlie Brown for his sports futility.

Today I will turn my focus to Crash Davis. Featured in the 1988 film Bull Durham, Davis was a highly respected veteran catcher. However, all his years in the minor leagues only led to one 21-day stint with a major league ballclub. Ever since those three weeks of glory, Crash continued to bounce around the bus circuit with the desperate hope of returning to The Show. However, those major league dreams never again materialized.

A closer examination reveals that numerous factors beyond his control kept Davis out of the big leagues. I may not change your mind about Crash’s role in his fate, but at least I hope to provide material to make you think – without hurting the ballclub. Before I get to the top five reasons you can’t blame Crash Davis for being stuck in the minor leagues, here are reasons that did not make the list – the “Best of the Rest”:

Ron Shelton: The Bull Durham writer/director based the film on his experiences as a minor league ballplayer. If Bill Mazeroski had written and directed the movie, Crash Davis would have won the World Series with a home run.

Playing Too Early: Crash was named Best Picture at last year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Crash was also a hit 1996 album for the Dave Matthews Band. However, in the 80s it was not yet trendy for a Crash to be rewarded.

Home Run Chase: Before retiring, Davis broke the all-time minor league home run record. During home run record pursuits in the major leagues, Roger Maris had his hair fall out from stress, Hank Aaron was bombarded with racist letters, and Barry Bonds is being dogged by steroid allegations. But Crash got his record in the minors, so no one bothered him at all.

And now, here are the top five reasons you can’t blame Crash Davis for being stuck in the minor leagues.

Reason #5: Davises. Crash was the victim of a numbers game by playing during the 1980s. In that decade, numerous prominent players named Davis entered the major leagues. The list included Alvin, Chili, Eric, Glenn, Jody, Mark, Mike, and Storm Davis. The major leagues simply would not allow another Davis to enter their ranks. As a result, not only was Crash Davis kept out of the big leagues, but so were Geena, Bette, and Ann B. Davis.

Reason #4: For Love of the Game. Baseball has been a common theme in Kevin Costner’s movies, having portrayed a fan in Field of Dreams and a retired ballplayer in The Upside of Anger. For Love of the Game, in which he played a Detroit Tiger pitcher, was the one film besides Bull Durham in which Costner portrayed an active player. The results were utterly forgettable, proving that Costner characters are much more compelling when in the minors.

Reason #3: Durham. Playing in Durham does not bode well for success at the highest level. The Bulls were a Single A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves when the Braves were annually awful. After Atlanta became consistently good, the Bulls switched over to be the AAA affiliate for the inept Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Also, the Duke basketball program has only produced one player who went on to win an NBA championship. And some members of the 2003 San Antonio Spurs still do not believe that Danny Ferry was on their roster.

Reason #2: Annie Savoy. Crash pointed out to his Bulls teammates that in The Show, “the women all have long legs and brains.” However, it was in Durham that he found a beautiful, horny woman who understood the intricacies of baseball. Sure, she was a bit nuts when she talked about things like breathing through your eyelids. But any guy will put up with some “crazy” to land a hot chick who can explain the infield fly rule.

Still not convinced? C’mon Meat, there’s just one reason left.

Reason #1: Big League Front Offices. Crash Davis was a switch-hitting catcher with frequent home run power who handled pitchers well and helped the wildly undisciplined Nuke LaLoosh take full advantage of his talent. You would think that general managers would regard such a prospect as Jesus with a mitt. So it boggles the mind that they didn’t have a spot for him on a major league roster. Reportedly, many GMs were scared off by the instances when Crash helped opposing batters to homer after telling them what pitch was coming. The front offices were apparently fearful that Davis would make a habit out of this activity while placing bets on the opposing team. Also, in terms of the homework they did on prospects, many of those GMs were just lollygaggers.

So there you have it. Maybe I’ve changed your mind about Crash Davis, and maybe I haven’t. But I hope I’ve at least given you some new perspectives to consider. In the meantime, I’m just happy to be here - hope I can help the ballclub.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ohio State vs. Florida: An Early Breakdown

Two weeks after Ohio State ended a perfect regular season, speculation was rampant over who would take on the Buckeyes in the BCS national championship game. Michigan will not get a second chance at its arch-rivals, as the Wolverines were edged by Florida in the final BCS standings. How do the Gators match up with Ohio State? Here is an early analysis.

Nicknames: Gators are lethal animals with a fearsome bite. The Buckeye is the state tree of Ohio, and no one is scared of being eaten by a tree. Unless you’re Charlie Brown’s kite. Advantage: Florida

Legendary Coaches: A high level of excitement can result in a Woody. But guys never talk about getting a Spurrier. Advantage: Ohio State

Current Coaches: Florida’s Urban Meyer earned a master’s degree from Ohio State and was a graduate assistant there. So he has inside information on his opponent, unlike OSU’s Jim Tressel, whose failure to infiltrate the University of Florida shows a lack of preparation. Advantage: Florida

Cities: Gainesville was named after General Edmund P. Gaines, commander of U.S. Army troops in Florida during the Second Seminole War. So both Columbus and Gainesville were named for men with a habit of slaughtering Native Americans. But government offices don’t close for Gaines Day. Advantage: Ohio State

Leading Rushers: DeShawn Wynn leads the Gators, while Antonio Pittman carries the load for the Buckeyes. “Wynn” reminds you of victory, but “Pitt Man” makes you think of a mediocre Big East team. Advantage: Florida

Quarterback Names: After Ohio State’s Troy Smith wins the Heisman Trophy, Troy University and the Men of Troy will participate in bowl games. No bowl invitations went out to Chris Tech or Leak A&M. Advantage: Ohio State

ESPN Football Personalities: OSU’s Kirk Herbstreit is a fixture on the College GameDay crew, while UF’s Erin Andrews reports from the sidelines. Hint on this one: I’m a dude. Advantage: Florida

Jesses: While winning four gold medals in front of Hitler, Ohio State’s Jesse Owens inspired freedom-loving sports fans. As The Bachelor, Florida’s Jesse Palmer inspired reality-TV junkies. Advantage: Ohio State

Griffins: The Gators’ home field is named for benefactor Ben Hill Griffin. But OSU’s Archie Griffin could have asked him, “Hey rich guy, did all that cash get you two Heismans? Didn’t think so!” Advantage: Ohio State

Late-Night Political Satire: The Daily Show shot its “Midwest Midterm Midtacular” on the Ohio State campus, but that was only for four days. Florida’s Darrell Hammond has done his impressions on Saturday Night Live for much longer. I think he joined the show with Joe Piscopo. Advantage: Florida

2006 Championships: The Buckeyes won Big Ten titles in numerous sports this year. However, the Gators took the national championship in basketball, David Eckstein was the World Series MVP, and Emmitt Smith reigned supreme on Dancing With the Stars. Advantage: Florida

Golden Effect: Florida routed the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, while Ohio State did the same to the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Florida may be home to The Golden Girls, but OSU’s Jack Nicklaus is the Golden Bear. Advantage: Ohio State

Weekend Campus Debuts: On Saturday, Greg Oden made his initial appearance as a Buckeye in a 78-58 victory over Valparaiso. Whatever firsts took place in Gainesville this weekend, I’m sure none of them involved the top pick in the next NBA draft. Advantage: Ohio State

Award-Winning Actresses: OSU’s Patricia Heaton won two Emmys for Everybody Loves Raymond, but Florida’s Faye Dunaway trumps her with an Oscar for Network. And in Mommie Dearest, she was much scarier than the vaunted Buckeye defense. Advantage: Florida

Inventions: Florida professor Robert Cade invented Gatorade. Roy Plunkett invented Teflon after getting a Ph.D. from Ohio State. Winners don’t get Teflon dumped on their head. Advantage: Florida

The Apprentice: Florida grad Kendra Todd won season 3 of Donald Trump’s competition. However, being an apprentice means that you’re not the top dog. Advantage: Ohio State

2003 Fiesta Bowl: The last time the BCS national championship game was played in Arizona, Ohio State defeated a team from Florida with a second-year coach. Gator fans, watch out for those pass interference flags. Advantage: Ohio State

Tallying up the results, it’s Ohio State 9, Florida 8. Assuming that will be the final score, you can expect a late Buckeye field goal to overcome an 8-6 deficit and bring home the championship.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

USC Bans Use of "Rose" For Rest of 2006

Site of many past triumphs for the program, the Rose Bowl has been a house of horrors for USC football in 2006. In both January and December, the Trojans’ national championship dreams were dashed in the historic Pasadena stadium. Therefore, coach Pete Carroll has determined that the word “Rose” will bring nothing but doom for his team in 2006. As a result, Carroll has banned the word from his program for the remainder of the year.

In January, Vince Young broke the hearts of USC fans in leading Texas to a 41-38 Rose Bowl victory. While the Trojans were devastated after the game, they knew that they had fallen to a great team led by a phenomenal performer. However, yesterday’s 13-9 defeat came to a UCLA Bruins squad that entered at 6-5 on the season, with seven consecutive losses in the cross-town rivalry. Since rational explanations for the shocker were scarce, many in the USC camp searched for answers outside the norm. Pregnancies are not abnormally high in Pasadena this year, so the city cannot be blamed for making Trojans ineffective. The Rose Bowl lingered as the obvious culprit. Taking no chances, Carroll decided to remove “Rose” from his players’ vocabulary through the end of December.

The USC coaching staff is confident that the Rose hex is only in effect for 2006, so the ban will be lifted on January 1. The Trojans will be back to play in the Rose Bowl that day. It remains to be seen how Carroll will keep his players from hearing “Rose” in the pre-game buildup before New Year’s Day. Internally, the team is referring to the contest as The 110 Freeway Bowl. During December, players will be forbidden from appearing on The Best Damn Sports Show Period, hosted by Chris Rose.

The coaching staff has also placed restrictions on the team’s on-campus life. Players are not allowed to listen to music by Guns ‘N Roses for the rest of the month. They are also forbidden to enter USC film school buildings during that time. They could possibly overhear discussions of Woody Allen that mention Broadway Danny Rose or The Purple Rose of Cairo. A reference to Titanic would inevitably include Kate Winslet’s character of Rose. Also, an evaluation of the impact of Citizen Kane would be all about Rosebud.

This policy will also impact basketball fans on the team. The Trojans cannot watch the Phoenix Suns in December due to the presence of Jalen Rose. On the bright side, Malik Rose will keep them from seeing the New York Knicks. The coaching staff was also concerned after learning that the USC basketball team has a walk-on guard named Chris Penrose. However, they decided that like all USC students, the football players will just naturally avoid seeing the basketball team play.

As the players unwind after practice, their television viewing habits will need to adhere to the policy. They can watch reruns of Charmed, but only the episodes before Shannen Doherty was replaced by Rose McGowan. The Golden Girls is strictly forbidden due to Betty White’s character of Rose – no small matter given the show’s popularity with college-aged males. The Trojan players have all been encouraged to watch DVDs they have been given about the Baseball Hall of Fame – a fitting subject for anyone observing a ban on “Rose.”

Yesterday, the Bruins drove a stake through the heart of USC’s national championship hopes. The Trojans suffer like vampires in another respect. Vampires are extremely resistant to garlic, whose common nickname is The Stinking Rose.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why The ACC Beat The Big Ten Again

Another ACC-Big Ten Challenge is in the books, and for the eighth time in as many attempts, the ACC has come out on top in the basketball showdown. On four of those occasions, the ACC wound up with a one-game advantage, but this time it was a decisive 8-3 edge. Why did the Big Ten come up short again? Here are some reasons.

Air Force: Wednesday night, the Falcons pummeled Wake Forest - the one ACC team not participating in the Challenge - by 36 points. Clearly, the Big Ten needs to add some service academies to take down the ACC.

Hillary Clinton: The Big Ten is headquartered in Park Ridge, Illinois, hometown of the New York senator. The conference followed her example, since she doesn’t play well in the South.

National Hockey League: The Challenge began on Monday, when visitors from Michigan saw a “Home of the Stanley Cup Champions” sign in Raleigh. Confusion immediately ensued.

Big Ben: “Big Ten” sounds like “Big Ben,” and both Ben Roethlisberger and Ben Wallace had a tough week.

Football Conference Championship: Shortly after a 1-2 matchup between Ohio State and Michigan, Big Ten schools were amused to hear that the ACC football championship game will match Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Periodic fits of giggling interrupted many Big Ten game plans.

Abbreviations: It’s cool for college students to talk in shorthand. The Atlantic Coast Conference is usually abbreviated, but you never hear anyone call the Big Ten Conference the BTC.

James Delany: The Big Ten commissioner is a North Carolina alumnus, so he still has a soft spot for his old conference.

2004-05 Michigan State: The Spartans lost to Duke in the Challenge but later eliminated the Blue Devils from the Sweet 16. Counting on NCAA tournament rematches, many Big Ten teams thought it would be best to lose now.

Network Programming: ABC and CBS clearly favor the ACC. It’s Boston Legal and CSI: Miami, not Bloomington Legal and CSI: West Lafayette.

The Eyes Don’t Have It: Both the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Ohio State Buckeyes lost their games. Other body parts were undefeated, as the North Carolina Tar Heels triumphed.

Cocktails: The Big Ten fared well in games involving alcoholic drinks, as the Purdue Boilermakers edged Virginia, and Northwestern topped the Miami Hurricanes. Unfortunately, there were nine other matchups. Next year, expect Big Ten press releases to refer to the Duke Blue Hawaiians and the Virginia Tech Fighting Martinis.

Dry Floors: In 2001, a Challenge game between Michigan State and Virginia was cancelled due to condensation on the Richmond Coliseum court. UVA was leading in the second half when the game was called. This year, no courts were too wet for play, so every Big Ten team had to play the entire second half.

Williams: The ACC is the league of the Williams, and Roy and Gary both won their Challenge games. So Minnesota was doomed as it took on Clemson in Williams Arena.

Florida-UCLA: The Big Ten is 2-0 in Challenge games featuring a rematch of the previous spring’s national championship game (Maryland-Indiana in 2002, North Carolina-Illinois in 2005). No such opportunity arose this time, since the Gators and Bruins refused to switch conferences for this event.

Quirky Trophies: Big Ten football showdowns often have a kitschy prize at stake, such as The Old Oaken Bucket or The Little Brown Jug. The conference would take the Challenge more seriously if an item from Cracker Barrel went to the winner.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Denzel Washington Named Alabama Football Coach

On Monday, Mike Shula was fired as the head football coach at the University of Alabama. Shula went 26-23 during his four years, including an 0-4 mark versus hated Iron Bowl rival Auburn. University officials did not take long to find their next man. Reports from Tuscaloosa are indicating that Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington will take over as Bama football coach.

Washington could not be reached for comment, but details on a press conference are reportedly forthcoming. In the meantime, many college football observers are stunned that such a storied program would be put into the hands of an actor. However, Denzel was so convincing as coach Herman Boone in Remember The Titans, athletic director Mal Moore had no doubt that he could inspire victories at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Moore is certain that Washington can lead the Crimson Tide, since he already played the lead in Crimson Tide. The athletic department apparently wanted to land him as soon as possible, since his experience in The Hurricane also made him a front-runner for the vacant Miami job.

Denzel does add many assets to the Bama program. The team’s offense often struggled under Shula, but Washington’s recent box office performance proves that he knows how to put up big numbers. Also, while the school surprisingly has never had a Heisman Trophy winner, the new coach brings two Oscars to Tuscaloosa. The largest impact of all should be seen in recruiting. With the handsome movie star on the sideline, all the mothers of high school football players in the state will beg their sons to go to Bama.

Tide fans treasure the illustrious history of the program, and Denzel can tap into that proud tradition. Having portrayed an angel in The Preacher’s Wife, he can ascend into heaven whenever he wants advice from Bear Bryant. He also has a link with one of the most famous players ever to don an Alabama uniform, since he teamed up with Forrest Gump in Philadelphia.

Most importantly to Bama fans, Washington’s Oscar-winning performances prepared him for showdowns with the team’s most bitter rival. Denzel was first honored for Glory, which depicted the intense combat of the Civil War. To football fans in Alabama, the film captured the spirit of the Iron Bowl. In winning for Training Day, Washington got the nod over nominees such as Tom Wilkinson from In the Bedroom. If he can beat one Tom when the stakes are high, Tide fans are confident that he can take down Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.

The hiring also addresses a controversy that arose when Shula got the job. Many observers felt that Alabama missed a historic opportunity in not hiring alumnus Sylvester Croom, who later became the SEC’s first African-American head coach at Mississippi State. Now there is a clear sign that things have changed in the state of George Wallace, since Bear Bryant’s position will be occupied by the guy who played Malcolm X.

However, Denzel’s hiring is not completely without controversy. Some school officials are fearful that he will overextend his authority and abuse his players during training camp. They point out that a past Training Day with Washington resulted in rampant drug use and violent gunplay. However, athletic department officials downplayed such concerns. Moore remarked, “If there’s a day we think about, it’s not Training Day. It’s the Third Saturday in October.”

In the meantime, Denzel will surely soak up some football insight in St. Louis, where son John David Washington is a member of the Rams’ practice squad. This time, he’s not just preparing for a role. He’s preparing for “Roll Tide!”

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Neighborhood Nastiness: The Weekend's In-State College Football Showdowns

Last week, Auburn took down Alabama in arguably the most bitter in-state college football rivalry of all. Next Saturday, UCLA hopes for a huge upset that would end USC’s national championship aspirations. However, this weekend was the biggest showcase for in-state showdowns. Some were more high-profile than others, but they all delivered more nastiness than a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving. Here’s a recap.


Texas A&M 12, Texas 7: Longhorn quarterback Colt McCoy threw three interceptions and suffered a pinched nerve in his neck. It was simply a rough week for Colts in Texas.

Oregon State 30, Oregon 28: After the Ducks’ defeat, the Oregon trainer took the “Civil War” billing a little too seriously, amputating the legs of three injured players.

Ohio 34, Miami (Ohio) 24: Miami finished a dismal 2-10 season. As a result, Larry Coker was fired again.


Virginia Tech 17, Virginia 0: The Hokies recorded their fourth home shutout of the season. If Virginia is for lovers, why can’t guys score when they go to Blacksburg?

North Carolina 45, Duke 44: The John Bunting era at UNC came to an end with the victory. A final game at Duke is the best parting gift a football coach could want.

East Carolina 21, North Carolina State 16: With Duke off the schedule, the Wolfpack can’t seem to find a local team they can beat. On the bright side, Chuck Amato can call Bunting for moving advice.

South Carolina 31, Clemson 28: Now we know why Steve Spurrier was a bad fit for the NFL. He has to be at a place where he ends the regular season against a Bowden.

Georgia 15, Georgia Tech 12: Despite the loss, the Yellow Jackets head to Jacksonville for the ACC championship game. Too bad this week’s contest wasn’t held there – the Bulldogs have no idea how to win in that city.

Florida 21, Florida State 14: Even with the win, the Gators are unlikely to wind up in the BCS top 2. Thanks to South Florida, the Seminoles (and Canes) aren’t even in the top 2 of the Sunshine State.

Mississippi 20, Mississippi State 17: The Rebels edged the Bulldogs in the Egg Bowl. To celebrate, players opted against the traditional Gatorade, instead dousing coach Ed Orgeron with a bucket of raw eggs.

Oklahoma 27, Oklahoma State 21: It will be just like old times as Oklahoma and Nebraska square off for a conference championship. As was so often the case back then, the winner takes on Boise State.

Arizona State 28, Arizona 14: The Sun Devils won the battle for the Territorial Cup. They can bring the Cup to a participating Chili’s for free margaritas.

BYU 33, Utah 31: The Cougars scored the winning touchdown with no time remaining. They chose not to win earlier, since they are the Latter-day Saints.

Rice 31, SMU 27: The loss leaves the Mustangs’ bowl hopes in jeopardy. If a 6-6 Conference USA team can’t make it to a bowl game, clearly there’s no justice in the world.

Florida Atlantic 31, Florida International 0: You can throw out the records when these two square off. At 0-11, FIU sure hopes so.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Tom Hanks-Themed Recap Of MLB's Award Winners

Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau was named as the 2006 American League Most Valuable Player on Tuesday. With that announcement, the list of individual award winners for the major league baseball season is now complete. As a two-time Academy Award winner, Tom Hanks can relate to the honorees. Having portrayed manager Jimmy Dugan in A League Of Their Own, Hanks is certainly in favor of promoting excellence in baseball. With that spirit in mind, here is a Tom Hanks-themed recap of MLB’s 2006 individual award winners.

Justin Morneau, AL MVP: The Terminal. Viktor Navorski was thrilled to arrive at JFK Airport but was not allowed to leave. Similarly, the Twins were excited to make the postseason but then went nowhere.

Ryan Howard, NL MVP & Hank Aaron Award: Philadelphia. The city’s sports outlook is often more depressing than the movie, but the Phillies’ slugger gives even the most pessimistic fans hope.

Johan Santana, AL Cy Young Award: Cast Away. What batters usually were against the major league leader in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. They’d love for Santana to get stranded on a desert island.

Brandon Webb, NL Cy Young Award: You’ve Got Mail. Hanks and Meg Ryan fell in love on the web. The Arizona Diamondbacks are in love with their Webb.

Justin Verlander, AL Rookie of the Year: Sleepless In Seattle. If the Detroit Tiger’s right arm holds up, he’ll cause hitters in Seattle and every other American League city to lose sleep.

Hanley Ramirez, NL Rookie of the Year: Catch Me If You Can. The Florida Marlins’ lead-off man used his speed for 51 stolen bases and 119 runs. However, his club was far more low-budget than a Spielberg movie.

Jim Leyland, AL Manager of the Year: Punchline. The Tigers were a long-time joke before Leyland took over. This season, only their World Series fielding provided comedy.

Joe Girardi, NL Manager of the Year: Joe Versus The Volcano. Girardi faced impossible odds in leading the inexperienced Marlins. After his one season, the front office sent him on the Road To Perdition.

Derek Jeter, AL Hank Aaron Award: The Ladykillers. The New York Yankees shortstop is reportedly dating Jessica Biel, the latest in a long line of babes. She thinks he’s a better kisser than A-Rod.

Jim Thome, AL Comeback Player of the Year: Big. The huge designated hitter for the Chicago White Sox slammed 42 home runs. And he’s only 13!

Nomar Garciaparra, NL Comeback Player of the Year: Toy Story. Woody and Buzz Lightyear played with a little guy. Nomar plays for a guy named Little.

Mariano Rivera, Delivery Man Award: Saving Private Ryan. No one saves better than Rivera, and he does it efficiently. He’d have had Matt Damon home in half an hour.

Carlos Delgado, Roberto Clemente Award: Nothing In Common. A comparison of the payrolls for Delgado’s former (Florida Marlins) and current (New York Mets) teams.

Tomorrow is a day to give thanks. Today, I’ve been happy to give Hanks.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rough Weekend On The Road For Unbeaten Football Teams

In one of his most famous songs, Willie Nelson proclaims, “I can’t wait to get on the road again.” Because he is Willie Nelson, he was probably stoned when he first uttered those words. Players from Michigan, Rutgers, and Indianapolis certainly think so. This past weekend, the road was a nasty place for undefeated football teams.

Saturday in Columbus, second-ranked Michigan fell 42-39 in a showdown with #1 Ohio State. Every matchup between the Buckeyes and Wolverines is hugely anticipated, but the buildup for this game was off the charts. Friday’s death of Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler made the occasion even more emotional. After the game, Bo’s spirit reportedly received a wedgie from the ghost of Woody Hayes.

In addition to those two icons, there was another presence from beyond this world in Ohio Stadium. At least that’s what the Wolverines would tell you about OSU quarterback Troy Smith, who gave them fits for the third straight year. Smith threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns while ending the Heisman Trophy race. Fans of the X-Men movies love to watch Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Much to his chagrin, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr will tell you that there is also a Buckeye superhero.

Amazingly, the Wolverines want another crack at Smith, and they might get it in the BCS national championship game. Michigan remained #2 in the BCS rankings, although USC has a good chance of jumping into that spot with wins over Notre Dame and UCLA. For once, UM supporters will eagerly root for the Fighting Irish, who were routed by the Wolverines in September. There is hope for fans in Ann Arbor, since they’re depending on a loss by the Men of Troy – not the man named Troy.

Rutgers also exited the state of Ohio in defeat after entering with a perfect record. Cincinnati trounced the seventh-ranked Scarlet Knights 30-11. The visitors from New Jersey had been the darlings of college football, entering the top 10 last week for the first time since the AP poll began in 1936. In another 70 years, they might even crack the top 5.

The Bearcats’ upset continued the Big East’s “Pay it Forward” theme for historic, program-building victories this month. On November 2, host Louisville knocked off #3 West Virginia. A week later, the Cardinals were the third-ranked unbeaten visitors, falling to Rutgers. Then the Scarlet Knights did their part in Nippert Stadium on Saturday. However, the chain apparently will break as Cincinnati visits Connecticut next weekend. Voters inexplicably left the 6-5 Bearcats out of the top 10, so Cincy is under no obligation to lose to the Huskies.

Sunday was no easier on unbeaten visitors, as the Indianapolis Colts fell 21-14 to the Cowboys in Dallas. The Colts had already won tough road games against the Giants, Jets, Broncos, and Patriots. Indy seemed particularly prepared for this trip, since the team features a tight end named Dallas. Late in the third quarter, Dallas Clark gave the Colts a 14-7 lead with a touchdown reception from Peyton Manning. However, the Cowboys compensated in the fourth quarter with two touchdown runs from Indianapolis Barber, better known as Marion.

The result left no NFL teams undefeated, further cementing the legacy of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. For at least one more year, those 17-0 Dolphins will remain the only undefeated team in the Super Bowl era. As they enjoyed their customary champagne Sunday night, they surely toasted Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 19 of 23 passes in his first home start. The Dolphins differed in that respect from the Cowboy coaches, since Terrell Owens is the one who drives them to drink.

Like Ohio State, Boise State managed to remain undefeated by staying at home. Even without injured star Ian Johnson, the Broncos routed Utah State 49-10 on the blue turf to go to 11-0. However, they are hoping that the road spell wears off before next weekend as they travel to 8-3 Nevada. Otherwise, coach Chris Petersen will understand how Tony Dungy felt on the Colts’ sideline on Sunday. One bid for perfection was dashed by Romo. Another would end in Reno.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sports Before and After

Every once in a while, I pay homage to my Jeopardy! experience with another installment of “Sports Before and After.” As with the “Before and After” category on the show, the answer to each clue combines two different subjects, with the end of the first part being the beginning of the second. For example, if asked for the female race car driver who had a Hall of Fame career as an NHL goaltender, you would answer “Danica Patrick Roy.”

Now that you’re prepared, go ahead and try your luck! Answers are listed at the end, and there’s no need to phrase your responses in the form of a question. For more “Sports Before and After” fun, feel free to check out my first and second installments. As a matter of tradition, the first question always involves UNC.

1. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” singer who’s a force in the paint for the Tar Heels

2. All-time strikeout record holder who hosts American Idol

3. George H.W. Bush campaign promise about a Baltimore Ravens safety

4. Milwaukee Bucks sharpshooter who starred on Sanford and Son

5. Film starring Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell about a Los Angeles Dodgers manager

6. Ohio State quarterback whose abduction brought about the Trojan War

7. Classic Steppenwolf song about Dwight Howard’s team

8. Legally Blonde star who played shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers

9. Big East member who sang “Maneater”

10. Don Johnson TV show about a two-time NBA MVP

11. Prison, named after a Buffalo Bills linebacker, where Sir Walter Raleigh was confined for 13 years

12. Beatles song about a 1980s New York Mets slugger

13. Evander Holyfield nickname, taken from a hit NBC game show

14. Hit Blondie song about Michigan’s star running back

15. Casablanca-inspired Woody Allen comedy about a Los Angeles Clippers guard

16. First day of Lent, named in honor of a late tennis star and activist

17. Lambeau Field franchise connected to a food product that Charlton Heston screamed was “PEOPLE!!!”

18. New Toronto Blue Jays signee who’s a locomotive in a children’s TV series and books

19. Pittsburgh Penguins star who sang “Woodstock” and “Teach Your Children”

20. Tearjerker starring Sally Field and Julia Roberts about an All-America guard for Alabama

21. Rob Schneider comedy about a legendary Los Angeles Lakers broadcaster

22. USA For Africa song about a female teenage golf sensation

23. Harvard Law School-set John Houseman film about a Philadelphia Phillies second baseman

24. “Playhouse” and “Big Adventure” star who coaches the Kansas City Chiefs

25. 1995 Heisman Trophy winner who hung out with Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer


1. Bonnie Tyler Hansbrough

2. Nolan Ryan Seacrest

3. Ed Reed My Lips, No New Taxes

4. Michael Redd Foxx

5. Grady Little Miss Sunshine

6. Helen of Troy Smith

7. Orlando Magic Carpet Ride

8. Pee Wee Reese Witherspoon

9. Seton Hall & Oates

10. Steve Nash Bridges

11. Tower of London Fletcher-Baker

12. Darryl Strawberry Fields Forever

13. The Real Deal Or No Deal

14. Michael Hart of Glass

15. Play It Again, Sam Cassell

16. Arthur Ashe Wednesday

17. Soylent Green Bay Packers

18. Frank Thomas the Tank Engine

19. Sidney Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

20. Ronald Steele Magnolias

21. The Hot Chick Hearn

22. Michelle Wie Are The World

23. The Paper Chase Utley

24. Pee-Wee Herman Edwards

25. Eddie George Costanza

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why Oral Roberts Beat Kansas

The college basketball world was stunned Wednesday night as Oral Roberts upset #3 Kansas in Allen Field House. The talented but young Jayhawks, along with Florida and North Carolina, were part of the trio of national championship contenders that dominated preseason forecasts. However, the Golden Eagles provided some early-season humility to their hosts. The following reasons explain how ORU accomplished the biggest win in school history.

University Namesakes: Kansas told us that all we are is dust in the wind. Oral Roberts said he had a vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus. That’s way cooler.

Team Nicknames: The Golden Eagle is a majestic bird of prey. The Jayhawk is a mythical bird representing a cross between a blue jay and a sparrow hawk. So it’s not even real.

Home Cities: KU is located in Lawrence, while ORU calls Tulsa home. Last Thursday, Joey Lawrence was eliminated from Dancing With the Stars. In the past week, no one named Joey Tulsa was booted from a reality show.

The Simpsons: Ned Flanders was noted as an alumnus of Oral Roberts University. Kansas has a loose connection to the series with guard Mario Chalmers. But Superintendent Chalmers is much less prominent on the show than Flanders. D’oh! Stupid Flanders…

Ancient Egypt: The Golden Eagles’ lineup featured guards Shawn King and Ken Tutt. In terms of evoking great civilizations, Kansas couldn’t match the King/Tutt combo.

Towson: KU’s next game is Sunday against Towson. The Jayhawks were caught looking ahead to the showdown with the Tigers.

New York Jets: With Sunday’s win over Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, Jets coach Eric Mangini showed that he could go on the road and take down his mentor. Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton, who was brought to ORU by current KU coach Bill Self, was duly inspired.

Coach’s Influence: It is often said that a team adopts its coach’s personality. That would make the Kansas players Self-ish. Being Sutton-ish isn’t nearly as bad.

Kathie Lee Gifford: The former talk-show host attended ORU. As the sidekick to Regis Philbin for 15 years, Kathie Lee showed that she could be part of a successful team. The current Golden Eagles have learned from her example, so they also talk constantly about the Gifford children.

2006 NCAA Tournament: Both schools were eliminated in the first round. But ORU’s conqueror (Memphis) defeated KU’s eliminator (Bradley).

Dress Code: While less restrictive than in the past, classes at Oral Roberts University still adhere to a dress code. As of last year, the same goes for the NBA. So Oral Roberts emulates basketball at the highest level.

College Football: The Kansas football team has a rivalry game this weekend with Kansas State. Oral Roberts does not have a football team, so the campus had no such distractions.

USA! USA!: In their first game since Veterans’ Day, the Golden Eagles had Adam Liberty in the starting lineup. No names in the Jayhawks’ starting lineup were nearly as patriotic.

2004-05 UNC National Champions: The Tar Heels began their title campaign with a loss in California to West Coast Conference member Santa Clara. Similarly, ORU opened this season by falling at Loyola Marymount of the WCC. Therefore, great things were bound to happen for the Golden Eagles.

Brandon Rush: The Kansas guard was due some bad karma after his comments that Michael J. Fox had exaggerated the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. Oh sorry, wrong Rush.

Wednesday’s shocker came two nights after Vermont stunned #14 Boston College. This time, the Eagles were on the right side of the upset ledger.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

BCS Hopefuls Caught Looking Ahead To Ohio State-Michigan Showdown

Anticipated all season, college football’s marquee matchup is set as #1 Ohio State and #2 Michigan will enter next Saturday’s showdown with undefeated records. This past week, fans wondered whether the Buckeyes and Wolverines would be caught looking ahead against Northwestern and Indiana, respectively. Both powerhouses cruised to victory, but most of their pursuers in the BCS standings were not so fortunate. The Ohio State-Michigan game is so eagerly awaited in the college football world, it caused the #3, 5, 6, and 8 teams to lose focus and fall from the national championship race.

The first strike came Thursday, as #3 Louisville fell to #13 Rutgers 28-25 in a Big East showdown. The result was further evidence of what we have seen from professional sports. Cardinals can win championships in baseball, but not in football. The Scarlet Knights’ dramatic victory came one week after Louisville celebrated in similar fashion against West Virginia. Apparently every Thursday this November, one Big East team will accomplish the biggest win in school history. So this Thursday night, look for the Cincinnati Bearcats to knock off the Bengals. As for Rutgers, one forward-looking writer foresaw their rise to glory back in September: Why Rutgers Will Win the National Title.

Also in September, Louisville accomplished what #5 Texas could not manage on Saturday: triumph at Kansas State. The Longhorns saw their dreams for a repeat championship dashed in a wild 45-42 defeat. Quarterback Colt McCoy scored a touchdown on the Longhorns’ opening drive, but a shoulder injury sustained on the play ended his evening early. While his Heisman and national title hopes are gone, there was some good news for McCoy on Saturday. A confused bystander was thwarted in his attempt to drag the injured Colt to the glue factory.

In completing four passes on his one drive, McCoy equaled the total for the entire game of Auburn’s Brandon Cox. Always mindful of showing southern hospitality to his visitors, Cox also completed four passes to Georgia defenders in a 37-15 debacle for the #6 Tigers. The upset came a week after bitter rival Alabama fell 24-16 to lowly Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa. Always trying to upstage their Iron Bowl adversaries, Auburn proved that it could accomplish an even more miserable home loss to an underdog group of Bulldogs.

Ohio State and Michigan were surely on the mind of #8 California, as the Bears hoped to play the winner on January 8 in Glendale, Arizona. The Bears made an early trip to Arizona this weekend, but they dropped a 24-20 heartbreaker in Tucson. Perhaps the Buckeyes did not receive the same message that reached Cal and Texas on their trip to Northwestern. This weekend, top 10 teams were apparently supposed to lose if they were on the road against Wildcats. The field at Arizona Stadium does hold a message that proved prophetic on Saturday. The mantra “Bear Down” is inscribed on the field, and the visiting Bears obliged by going down.

After Ohio State and Michigan, only #7 USC had a comfortable week among the top 8 as the Trojans routed Oregon 35-10. #4 Florida struggled mightily with visiting South Carolina but survived, 17-16. Jarvis Moss was the hero, blocking a 48-yard field goal attempt at the end, as well as an extra-point try by the Gamecocks earlier in the fourth quarter. Perhaps Moss was inspired by the “Block” sign held by Burt Reynolds in one of the Miller Lite “Men of the Square Table” commercials. If so, Reynolds is sorry he ever came up with the idea. A former Seminole would never want to help the Gators.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rumsfeld Joins Knicks' Coaching Staff

One day after the eventful mid-term elections, further change was evident in Washington as President Bush announced the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Bush has nominated Robert Gates, a former CIA director and current president of Texas A&M University, as Rumsfeld’s replacement. As for the outgoing secretary, he will make the move from the Pentagon to Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks head coach and general manager Isiah Thomas announced that he has hired Rumsfeld as an assistant coach.

Thomas described Rumsfeld as a great fit for the Knicks due to his record during the Iraq war. The feeling was mutual from Rumsfeld, who stated, “The New York Knicks have shown a commitment to spending outrageous sums of money, with little success to show for their efforts. That’s my kind of team!” In hiring the outgoing secretary, Isiah reportedly went against the advice of Bobby Knight, his coach at Indiana. As a General, there was no way Knight could endorse Rumsfeld.

The new assistant does provide New York with a reminder of the team’s glory days. Rumsfeld is a Princeton alumnus who comes to the team after a career in politics. Bill Bradley was a Princeton graduate who went into politics after a career with the Knicks – highlighted by the 1970 and 1973 NBA championships. Bradley was regarded as a team player who would pass up a shot if he could set up a teammate with a better one. Similarly, during the Bush administration Rumsfeld has been content to leave the shooting to Dick Cheney.

The secretary did have some interaction with the Knicks during his tenure at the Pentagon. The same questionable intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq was also responsible for New York’s first round selection of Renaldo Balkman. Even more notable was the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal that led to widespread calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation. Defense Department officials regretfully acknowledged that some prisoners had been forced to watch an entire Knicks game on DVD.

New York had some good news Wednesday night, as Jamal Crawford’s 3-pointer with 3.7 seconds remaining capped a 109-107 road win over the Denver Nuggets. While encouraged by the result, Rumsfeld reiterated the Knicks’ need to stay vigilant on the long road to success. “We will remain committed to winning the war on turnovers,” he declared. Rumsfeld added, “New York must always remember 9-11,” referring to the days when the Knicks were good enough for a 9-11 record after 20 games.

Upon joining New York, the outgoing secretary will find numerous similarities to his previous line of work. The Knicks’ defense, like the Department of Defense, is often a target of ridicule. The United States has become bogged down in the Middle East, while the Knicks have struggled in the Eastern Conference. Rumsfeld is not interested in international alliances, so he is happy that New York is a rare NBA team with only U.S.-born players on its roster. He is also unconcerned about potential clashes with high-maintenance guard Stephon Marbury, remarking that Marbury “can’t hate me as much as the Democrats in Congress did.”

Before the Iraq war, Rumsfeld was quoted as saying, “It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” That remark lives in infamy, along with Cheney’s statement that “we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” However, Rumsfeld does expect warm greetings to be commonplace during his time with the Knicks. Opposing players and fans will be very happy to see them.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Football Weekend Ruled By Colts

Saturday at Churchill Downs, Argentina-bred colt Invasor galloped to a one-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Perhaps Invasor could have done even better if the horse had been wearing a helmet and shoulder pads. In both college and pro football, this was a great weekend for the Colts.

An eventful Sunday in the NFL was capped by the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-20 road victory over the New England Patriots. Although Indianapolis won in Foxborough last season, the Patriots were still considered the Colts’ nemesis for beating them in numerous significant contests on the way to three Super Bowl championships. Sunday’s game, like most of the recent matchups between them, took place in Gillette Stadium. The venue has brought frequent heartbreak to Indy quarterback Peyton Manning, and not just because of the losses. Gillette is one of very few American companies not to feature him in a commercial.

However, Tom Brady was the quarterback who suffered Sunday night, as the Colts defense picked him off four times. Manning threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns as Indianapolis improved to 8-0 on the season. The Colts are two games better than anyone else in the AFC, and the Chicago Bears’ stunning home loss to the Miami Dolphins leaves Indy as the NFL’s lone unbeaten. Once again, the shadow of the 1972 Dolphins will loom over the Colts while they remain without a loss. However, those old Dolphins cannot faze Manning, unless they show up in Indianapolis wearing Florida Gator uniforms.

One day before Indianapolis came through in New England, another Colt sparked a victory in Austin. Freshman quarterback Colt McCoy threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns as Texas routed Oklahoma State 36-10. McCoy set a UT record for TD passes in a season with 27, just two shy of the NCAA freshman season record. Colt further injected himself into the Heisman Trophy discussion and helped his Longhorns remain in the national championship race. His good fortune even spread to Texas fans, as television reports are claiming that Matthew McConaughey is the new football coach at Marshall.

On November 24, Colt McCoy will take his shot against the hated Texas A&M Aggies. Saturday, Hawaii’s Colt Brennan was on display against the Utah State Aggies, throwing for 413 yards and six touchdowns in a 63-10 domination. Brennan has a school record 39 TD passes on the season, with five games remaining to try to eclipse David Klingler’s NCAA single-season record of 54. Under coach June Jones, the Warriors annually pile up huge numbers through the air, but they have no shortage of skeptics when they travel to the mainland. Saturday’s rout in Logan, Utah is further evidence that Colt Brennan and his teammates can be lethal on the road as well. Therefore, it is time to discard the notion that the Warriors cannot succeed on the mainland – unless you’re talking about the NBA.

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis noticed how successful Colts were over the weekend, so he has made a major addition to the roster before tonight’s game with the Seattle Seahawks. The team signed Colt Seavers, the character portrayed by Lee Majors in The Fall Guy. As a stunt man who moonlights as a bounty hunter, Seavers fits in well with the Raider image and should be a natural on special teams. Oakland passed on another Majors character, Steve Austin, because his habit of running and jumping in slow motion would be disastrous in today’s NFL. Austin still hopes to join another team, insisting that he can succeed as long as his teammates know how to make bionic sound effects.

Saturday and Sunday’s football action was surely enjoyed by the man who portrayed Lando Calrissian. Billy Dee Williams was the height of smoothness in his commercials for Colt 45. Over the weekend, his favorite beverage was not the only Colt that “works every time.”

Friday, November 03, 2006

Big East Denies Venue Change Request By Louisville For Rutgers Game

The University of Louisville was a festive place Thursday night as the fifth-ranked Cardinals topped #3 West Virginia 44-34 in an undefeated Big East football showdown. After the biggest win in school history, the program seems to be in prime position to reach the BCS national championship game on January 8. However, Louisville must travel to fellow unbeaten Rutgers next Thursday night. The Cardinals have already been dealt a setback, as the Big East has denied Louisville’s request to move the game to a neutral site.

Like last night’s contest, the Louisville-Rutgers matchup will be the weekly Thursday night ESPN game. The home team has won eight of the ten Thursday night ESPN matchups this season, including the last five in a row. In four of those last five, the road victim was a ranked team. With those factors in mind, Louisville requested that next Thursday’s showdown be moved to Pittsburgh – roughly halfway between the two schools. Coach Bobby Petrino pointed out that ESPN will be in Pittsburgh the following Thursday night as the Panthers host West Virginia. He argued that broadcasting from Heinz Field a week early would benefit the network, since the practice run would help the Pitt-West Virginia telecast go more smoothly.

However, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese rejected the request, so Louisville must tackle the same challenge that befell last night’s victim at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. West Virginia hosted a Thursday night ESPN game on September 14, dominating Maryland 45-24. Things did not go so well when they were the Thursday night visitors this time. The Cardinals took control in the third quarter after returning a Steve Slaton fumble and a punt for touchdowns in short succession. Despite his 156 yards and a touchdown, Slaton’s night was marred by two lost fumbles, a wrist injury, and the knowledge that his national championship and Heisman Trophy hopes were gone. Even worse, he had completely forgotten to Tivo Grey’s Anatomy.

The Mountaineers’ neighbors in Virginia experienced similar highs and lows on Thursday nights. Virginia Tech fell from the rankings after a 22-3 setback at Boston College on October 12. They returned to the top 25 after dominating #10 Clemson 24-7 two Thursdays later in Blacksburg. Similarly, Virginia stood and watched the Calvin Johnson Show in Atlanta on September 21, falling 24-7 to Georgia Tech. Four Thursdays later in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers routed North Carolina 23-0. The victory was assured when UVA looked across the field and saw that they were playing UNC.

The only two Thursday night ESPN games to be won by the visitors both involved South Carolina. The Gamecocks won at Mississippi State 15-0 on August 31, but fell to Auburn 24-17 in Columbia on September 28. With that in mind, Petrino asked South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier if the Cardinals could borrow the Gamecocks’ uniforms for the Rutgers game. However, South Carolina will travel to Florida in a high-profile matchup next Saturday, so The Head Ball Coach did not want any further distractions. To latch onto any karma he can, Petrino plans to periodically throw a visor during the Rutgers game.

The Thursday night pattern contradicts the claim of the “Monday’s Child” nursery rhyme. Children learn that “Thursday’s child has far to go.” The line suggests that Thursday will belong to the team that travels the most distance. This example is further evidence that nursery rhymes show no understanding of college football. Therefore, ESPN has abandoned plans to add Mother Goose to its broadcast team.

Now Louisville must buck the odds as it travels to New Jersey to take on Greg Schiano’s Scarlet Knights. The Cardinals are not as fortunate as fellow unbeaten Boise State. The Broncos dominated Oregon State 42-14 on the blue turf in a Thursday night ESPN game on September 7. Since then, they’ve had a “TGINT” attitude for all their road games: Thank God It’s Not Thursday.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Country Music-Themed Guide To College Basketball's Preseason Top 15

This Monday, excellence in country music will be celebrated at the 40th annual CMA Awards in Nashville. The festive occasion comes as college basketball fans gear up for another exciting season on campus. The preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll has already been released, offering an opportunity to combine these American institutions. Each of the top 15 teams relates in some way to a country music star of the past or present. Here is an analysis.

15. Boston College: Keith Urban. Married to Nicole Kidman, Urban can be overshadowed by the glamorous company he keeps. The solid, but under-the-radar Eagles get the same treatment around UNC and Duke.

14. Memphis: Garth Brooks. As a powerhouse stuck in Conference USA, John Calipari’s Tigers have “Friends In Low Places.”

13. Texas A&M: Merle Haggard. Haggard turned his life around after being released from prison. Aggie opponents will learn the same lesson about A&M’s backcourt star. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the (Acie) Law.

12. Alabama: Alabama. I completely racked my brain coming up with that one. Ronald Steele will make sweet music in Tuscaloosa.

11. Duke: Charlie Daniels. He brought us “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” and the Blue Devils hope to be in Georgia for the Final Four. Just in case, Coach K is devoting extra practice time to fiddling drills.

10. Arizona: The Judds. Another group of Wildcats is famously cheered on by a Judd. So Lute Olson decides that he can do even better with two of them.

9. Wisconsin: Tammy Wynette. Best known for “Stand By Your Man,” the late Wynette would have loved the tenacious defense of Bo Ryan’s Badgers.

8. Georgetown: Rosanne Cash. As the offspring of a famous father, Johnny Cash’s daughter would fit in well with coach John Thompson III and forward Patrick Ewing, Jr.

7. LSU: Big and Rich. After another stellar season in Baton Rouge, Glen Davis will soon be a Big AND Rich Baby.

5 (tie). UCLA: Dolly Parton. The Bruins’ revival has come under coach Ben Howland’s deliberate style, so “9 To 5” could be a halftime score.

5 (tie). Pittsburgh: The Dixie Chicks. The Panthers are expected to battle Georgetown for Big East supremacy. So like the Bush-bashing trio, they’ll make enemies in Washington.

4. Ohio State: Kenny Chesney. Like Chesney’s marriage to Renée Zellweger, Greg Oden’s partnership with the Buckeyes will last four months. Oden hopes to win a national title in his one season at OSU – the only way Maurice Clarett should ever be his role model.

3. Kansas: Sara Evans. Evans withdrew from Dancing With the Stars while still in competition. Similarly, KU’s past two seasons have resulted in premature exits from The Dance.

2. North Carolina: Kenny Rogers. You might have expected Faith Hill, as there is much faith in Chapel Hill among Tar Heel fans. But the name Kenny Rogers seems appropriate when “Tar” is mentioned.

1. Florida: Carrie Underwood. The American Idol winner hopes to be honored Monday for “Jesus Take the Wheel.” The defending champs also believe in Biblical guidance, being led by Noah.

We’re still many months away from knowing how the brackets will look. However, there could be a little bit of March Madness in Nashville on Monday. So don’t be too surprised if the award for Male Vocalist of the Year goes to George Mason.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bush & Leinart Still Connected To USC - This Time In Misery

During the three seasons in which Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart were together at USC, adversity was a largely unknown term on campus. The two superstars combined for as many Heisman Trophies as losses. USC was a fixture in college football’s penthouse, with Bush and Leinart as the high-wattage faces of the program. Although the two stars have moved on to the NFL, it seems appropriate that they would share the same perspective as their school when things aren’t so rosy. After the Trojans endured a miserable Saturday, Bush and Leinart followed suit on Sunday.

USC’s national title aspirations took a huge hit with Saturday’s 33-31 loss at Oregon State, a program the Trojans had dominated for decades. Before this visit to Corvallis, USC had won 30 of 31 matchups between the schools since the Beavers shocked an O.J. Simpson-led powerhouse in 1967. After that upset, the school of The Glove (Gary Payton) was no match for the school of The Bloody Glove. The lopsided series was no surprise if you consider the naïve sitcom character made famous by Jerry Mathers. The Beaver would have no idea what to do with a pack of Trojans.

However, despite a stirring fourth quarter rally, the looming specter of Halloween doomed the third-ranked visitors on Saturday. The team in orange and black came out on top. Also, as if greeting trick-or-treaters, USC decided to give things away. Unfortunately, it was the football, not Snickers bars, that they kept handing over to OSU. The four turnovers kept USC from a fourth consecutive narrow escape in Pac-10 play. The Trojans had been in costume all month, merely dressing up as national championship contenders.

Bush’s New Orleans Saints had also specialized in close victories before this weekend. However, the Baltimore Ravens slowed the momentum of the Saints’ inspirational season with Sunday’s 35-22 win in the Superdome. Bush left in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle, which he said will not keep him out of action next week. He rushed for just 16 yards on five carries against the vaunted Baltimore defense, adding four receptions for a mere five yards. He also coughed up a fumble and threw a halfback option pass that was intercepted by Ray Lewis in the end zone. The latter play, involving a star from the University of Miami, had an oddly familiar ring to it: A Hurricane caused havoc in New Orleans, and Bush did nothing about it.

Leinart also had a tough day in a 35-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The game was not the biggest story of the week for him, however, as he became a father on Tuesday. Former girlfriend Brynn Cameron gave birth to a new boy named Cole Cameron Leinart. According to a report from the delivery room, Cole entered the world after being shoved out of the uterus by a fetus with “619” eye black.

Fatherhood did not bring good luck at Lambeau Field on Sunday, as Cole’s dad completed just 14 of his 35 attempts. Leinart was also sacked four times to go with his one touchdown and one interception. The disappointing Cardinals have lost seven in a row, so coach Dennis Green is likely to be on the unemployment line before long. The only Green who fared worse this weekend was Bowling Green, who somehow lost to Temple. The phrase “USC loses, while Temple wins” has led millions of college football fans to suspect that they are being punk’d.

While this was a rough weekend for Trojans of the present and recent past, the outlook should brighten considerably next week. USC gets to take out its frustrations on winless Stanford. Bush, presumably back at full strength, faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who yielded his first NFL touchdown on October 8. And Leinart gets the best news of all. His Arizona Cardinals have the week off.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Los Angeles Angels of St. Louis Spark World Series Victory

In January 2005, Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno renamed the franchise the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The cumbersome name drew widespread mockery from sports fans. Today a geographical adjustment would make the name completely appropriate. The Cardinals are the World Series champions, thanks to the Los Angeles Angels of St. Louis.

Friday night at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers 4-2 to capture the Fall Classic in five games. Shortstop David Eckstein, previously of the Angels, was named World Series MVP. Known for his boundless energy, the 5’7” Eckstein’s position is only half-correct. He is short, but he never stops. Eckstein now has two World Series rings, despite looking young enough to receive creepy emails from Mark Foley.

Game 5’s winning pitcher also came to St. Louis from Anaheim. Jeff Weaver pitched eight strong innings as part of an unlikely stellar postseason. Weaver was basically dumped by the Angels in July after going 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA to start the season. His spot in the Los Angeles rotation was taken by brother Jered, who enjoyed an excellent rookie campaign. Overshadowed by a star younger sibling, Jeff was the Johnny Drama of the Angels. On Friday night, however, he got to raise his arm and yell “Victory!” Fortunately, major league rules prohibited him from taking the mound in Viking Quest attire.

The turning point of the series came in game 3, after Detroit had tied the series at one game apiece. The first two runs of the Cardinals’ 5-0 triumph were driven in by outfielder Jim Edmonds, who was acquired from the Angels in 2000. In addition to his prowess at the plate, Edmonds is renowned for his outstanding play in centerfield. His highlight reel catches are particularly amazing to NFL coach Dennis Green, who rarely sees Cardinals playing great defense.

Angels general manager Bill Stoneman contributed to Anaheim’s 2002 World Series championship team. Since then, despite signing free agents such as Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colón, he has often been criticized for being overly conservative in pulling the trigger on deals. However, Stoneman’s detractors were proven wrong by Friday’s celebration in St. Louis. He had accomplished what they said he couldn’t do: help build another World Series winner.

Scott Spiezio did not come directly from Anaheim to the Cardinals, having played for the Seattle Mariners in 2004 and 2005. However, he was a teammate of Eckstein on the Angels’ championship team. His heroics versus the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series brought back memories of his series-turning home run in Game 6 of the 2002 Fall Classic. In honor of his efforts, the Budweiser Clydesdales are now wearing red soul patches.

The Angels’ influence on the Cardinals is also seen in less obvious ways. Catcher Jose Molina has played in Anaheim for many years, as brother Bengie did before joining the Toronto Blue Jays this season. At some point it became trendy for major league clubs to have a catcher named Molina. Therefore, St. Louis eagerly drafted Yadier Molina, whose ninth inning home run won game 7 of the NLCS. Less successful were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who failed to agree to terms with actor Alfred Molina.

The Cardinals’ triumph is not the first championship aided by an Anaheim-to-St. Louis pipeline. The Rams captured Super Bowl XXXIV in their fifth season since departing southern California. That dramatic victory inspired part of manager Tony La Russa’s strategy on Friday. If there had been a play at the plate in the top of the ninth inning, Mike Jones was ready to tackle the Detroit runner just short of home plate.

The Angels helped to make Busch Stadium a heavenly place on Friday. Although he was not needed, one other member of the Halos was available to help the home team. St. Louis did not trail after taking the lead in the fourth inning. But the Rally Monkey was ready for action, dressed in Cardinal red.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

LeBron, Barry To Star In James Bonds Movie

Casino Royale is sure to draw major box office numbers upon its November 17 release. James Bond fans are eager to see how well Daniel Craig fills the shoes of Agent 007. Hoping to capitalize on the buzz, two sports superstars have announced that they will bring their own version of a suave action hero to the big screen. LeBron James and Barry Bonds will team up as a spy named James Bonds.

James Bonds is billed as the world’s top two-headed secret agent, with Barry’s head being the much larger of the two. LeBron and Barry have proven to be huge draws in arenas and ballparks, so they believe audiences will flock to the metroplex. The franchise players for the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Francisco Giants expect a franchise to arise from this character. No title has yet been named for the initial installment – appropriate, since both of their teams are in a long title drought. LeBron and Barry hope to avoid the disaster that befell a similar pairing of a young NBA star and controversial baseball record-setter - the notorious 1986 flop Olajuwon Rose Saves Wichita.

In addition to box office receipts, both players stand to benefit from the combination. LeBron hopes to follow the lead of Dwyane Wade, who experienced great success after teaming up with a veteran superstar from a team in California. Barry can improve his negative public image by joining forces with a charismatic, marketable young star. As it is, the only way his image can worsen is if he suits up as #81 for the Dallas Cowboys.

The two-headed aspect of the James Bonds character provides a comedic, buddy movie dimension. The LeBron head and the Barry head are stuck on the same body, but they constantly disagree. For example, the Barry head complains about walking too much, while the LeBron head responds, “Walking? I don’t even know what that means!” The two heads even differ on their agent number. The LeBron head claims to be part of Agent Triple-Double 07, while the Barry head counters that they are actually Agent Ground Rule Double 07.

The LeBron head does seem to get the more enjoyable end of the deal. The psychotic villains tend to address the Barry head, preferring the formal address of “Mr. Bonds.” On the other hand, the killer babes usually exclaim, “Oh James!” So the LeBron head gets most of the make-out action.

James Bonds experiences a mixture of sexy women and gunplay – in a classier way than Stephen Jackson. Like the Bond flicks, this movie will also feature numerous memorable villains. James Bonds will have to contend with the likes of Big Ben and The Rocket. The film’s producers are highly secretive with details about the main bad guy of the movie. However, online speculation is rampant that James Bonds will have to battle a shot-blocking San Francisco Chronicle reporter.

To help in the exploits against his enemies, James Bonds has numerous gadgets at his disposal. Gaping with wonder at the toys devised by scientists, Bonds exclaims, “Imagine that! Things created in a lab can give me a competitive advantage!” Most impressive of all are the character’s fancy automobiles. While Bond drives an Aston Martin, the cars of choice for James Bonds are the Kenyon Martin and the Pedro Martinez.

With Barry now in the off-season, filming will have to work around LeBron’s NBA schedule. During All-Star weekend in Las Vegas, the filmmakers plan to shoot plenty of footage in the casinos. James Bonds will be appropriately dapper, with LeBron and Barry squeezing into a tuxedo. However, the character won’t be ordering a “shaken, not stirred” vodka martini. The LeBron head will take a Sprite. And the Barry head will opt for the juice.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Potential Alumni Candidates For UNC Football Job

Sunday evening, North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour announced that football coach John Bunting will be relieved of his duties at season’s end. The decision has been anticipated for quite some time, as the Tar Heels’ dismal 1-6 season has dropped Bunting’s cumulative UNC coaching record to 25-42. While disapproving of Bunting’s job performance, most Carolina fans appreciate the love and enthusiasm the UNC alumnus has shown toward his alma mater.

It is likely that the next coach will come from outside the Tar Heel family. However, numerous well-known individuals who attended Carolina could be intriguing candidates. Julius Peppers, Willie Parker, and others are busy with the NFL at the moment, and the same is true for NBA notables such as Rasheed Wallace and Vince Carter. However, perhaps one of these prominent Tar Heels will be available for duty in Kenan Stadium next fall.

Lewis Black: With the Daily Show correspondent in charge, players would be unfazed by hostile crowds. He’s louder than any opposing stadium.

Larry Brown: The last time UNC football was led by a Coach Brown, the Tar Heels were in the top 10. Larry would also be successful, as long as Isiah Thomas isn’t in charge of recruiting.

Billy Crudup: His voiceovers could inspire the quarterbacks: “Completing a pass to a player on your own team: Priceless.”

Rick Dees: Right now Bunting is a lame duck. So it would be fitting to replace him with the guy who brought us “Disco Duck.”

Matt Doherty: The football team is usually in the shadow of the Carolina hoopsters. Doherty has proven that he can divert fans’ attention from the basketball team.

John Edwards: The law school alum is also an NC State grad, so he could be up for Chuck Amato’s job as well. He should not have John Kerry on his staff - together, they can’t win in the south.

Louise Fletcher: As Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, she kept the nutcases under control. Actually, they need her more at Miami.

Peter Gammons: He could take his Baseball Tonight colleagues with him, with John Kruk as the conditioning coach.

Andy Griffith: As the team runs onto the field, the theme from his show would play instead of “Hell’s Bells.”

Mia Hamm: She’s already a football champion, to most of the world. Plus, she’s well-prepared to deal with injuries, being married to Nomar Garciaparra.

Marion Jones: She’d instill a sense of teamwork, since she supposedly knows a lot about chemistry.

Michael Jordan: If the ground game falters, Carolina could always look to the Air.

Davis Love III: He’d help the defense get some rest, since he specializes in long drives.

Kevin Martin: The FCC chairman could slow down opposing offenses by imposing a five-second delay.

Jack Palance: If he could toughen up Billy Crystal in City Slickers, he should do wonders with special teams.

Stuart Scott: He would never let the team forget its identity, since he insists on shouting “Tar Heel” every other sentence.

Lawrence Taylor: The Hall of Fame linebacker could provide memories of UNC’s last ACC championship season in 1980. For fans, but not for himself – he was too high to remember any of that.

James Worthy: He’s called “Big Game James,” so for the first time in ages, you’d hear the phrase “Big Game” in Kenan Stadium.

In the meantime, Bunting will coach five more games until the season-ender at Duke. In baseball terms, his name gives an indication that his coaching tenure was not destined for greatness. You can’t hit a home run if you’re Bunting.