Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Browns Seek Move To NFC West

On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks will make their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.  They will proudly represent the NFC against the Pittsburgh Steelers, even though the Seahawks spent the first 26 years of their existence in the AFC.  The Super Bowl-starved Cleveland Browns have taken notice and would love to experience similar results.  As a result, the Browns have requested that the NFL move them to the NFC West.



Under the proposition, the Arizona Cardinals would take Cleveland’s place in the AFC North.  Like the Browns, the Cardinals have never played in a Super Bowl.  Cleveland owner Randolph Lerner noted that since current conditions are not working for either team, perhaps a change of scenery would be to their benefit.  In that respect, a switch could be viewed in the same manner as last week’s Ron Artest-Peja Stojakovic trade.  Except that the Cardinals don’t hit people as often as Artest.



Changing conferences seems to have agreed with Seattle.  The Seahawks made one playoff appearance in their final 13 seasons in the AFC, losing an opening round matchup at home to Miami in January 2000.  However, they have reached the postseason in three of their four NFC campaigns.  The cyclical nature of the league has helped.  Seattle’s new division rivals in San Francisco and St. Louis have had glorious seasons in the past, but this year they were as impotent as the Democratic party.  The 49ers in particular embody the NFL phenomenon known as the Travolta Effect.  They’ve enjoyed their “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction” while they lasted, but now they have to endure their “Battlefield Earth.”



The Browns are hoping that by joining Seattle in the NFC West, their long-held, desperate Super Bowl wishes can be realized.  The team’s supporters are similar to Red Sox fans prior to 2004.  The Drive equates to Bucky Dent’s home run, and The Fumble parallels Bill Buckner’s error.  Babe Ruth left Boston and won many World Series in New York, while Art Modell moved the Browns out of Cleveland and captured a Super Bowl title in Baltimore.  The similarities are so strong, Manny Ramirez recently put on a Browns uniform and demanded to be traded to another NFL team.



Since pro football returned to Cleveland in 1999, the results have mostly been dismal.  The Browns’ cumulative record over those seven seasons is 36-76.  Head coach Romeo Crennel provides some reason for optimism, having won three Super Bowl rings as New England’s defensive coordinator before heading to Cleveland in 2005.  However, Romeo’s first Browns team still had too many Juliets, finishing 6-10. 



One of the major culprits is the lack of production from the team’s first-round draft choices.  Holding the first overall selection in 1999, the front office lent too much credence to the theory that athletes named after furniture will thrive in Ohio.  This strategy worked brilliantly with Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.  However, quarterback Tim Couch flopped with the Browns.



With their tortured playoff history and uninspiring recent performance, the Browns found inspiration in the Seahawks and decided to take action.  However, Cleveland’s request is just the latest appeal the Browns have made to the league office over the years in order to enhance their Super Bowl chances.  The most prominent of these efforts was the “dirty-tricks campaign” against the Denver Broncos in the late 1980s.  Numerous Browns officials attempted to break into the league office, leaving fake memos stating that teams with orange uniforms were ineligible for the postseason.  On numerous occasions Cleveland also tried to have John Elway suspended, claiming that he was responsible for the Iran-Contra Affair, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the release of “Howard the Duck.”



Those pleas were denied, but the Browns hope for a breakthrough this time around.  Whatever it takes to get there, Cleveland will erupt in celebration whenever their beloved team finally reaches the Super Bowl.  They’ll further rejoice when they see the opposition take the field.  Because John Elway will be nowhere in sight.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Anaheim Faces Reality, Removes "Mighty" From Nickname

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim have announced that the NHL team will officially alter its name to the Anaheim Ducks.  Ownership indicated that the change will be in effect for the start of next season.  The move was inevitable for a franchise that has seldom been mighty.



The franchise began play in 1993 under the ownership of the Walt Disney Company.  The Mighty Ducks nickname was taken from the 1992 Disney movie starring Emilio Estevez.  Then-Disney chairman Michael Eisner chose the name after deciding against the Pinocchios and the Cinderellas.  The nickname was considered by many critics to be the worst example of corporate synergy in sports history.  News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch nearly took this honor several years later before deciding not to rename the Dodgers the Los Angeles American Idols.



Since its inception, the team has rarely lived up to the “Mighty” label.  The Ducks have only reached the postseason three times in that span and would miss this year’s playoffs if the season ended today.  Particularly hurting the club is its 2-10 record in overtime games this year.  The Ducks appear to be more resistant to overtime than Homer Simpson at the Springfield Power Plant.



The exception to this sub-par play came during the spring of 2003, when the Mighty Ducks made an inspired run to the Stanley Cup finals.  Anaheim even swept the Detroit Red Wings, who have legitimately been mighty over the past decade.  Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere was brilliant throughout the postseason, leading the Ducks to the brink of a title before falling to the New Jersey Devils in Game 7.  “Jiggy” received the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, part of a trend of French-Canadians winning major individual sports trophies in 2003.  Dodgers closer Eric Gagne won the Cy Young Award, while the Heisman Trophy went to Oklahoma quarterback Jason Blanc, known to American fans as Jason White.



The Ducks’ mightiness was short-lived, however, as the team missed the playoffs in 2004.  Meanwhile, Disney was looking for a buyer.  Rumors that Donald Trump would purchase the franchise and rename it the Anaheim Donald Ducks proved unfounded.  Ultimately, Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli and his wife Susan bought the team in 2005.  With the team’s connection to the film studio gone, a change from the Mighty Ducks was considered likely.



The organization conducted research with season ticket holders and evaluated various options.  Considering the team’s lackluster history, the Anaheim Sitting Ducks was a possibility.  Ownership opted for simplicity, settling on the Ducks.  Samueli refused to follow the lead of his baseball neighbors and go with the Los Angeles Ducks of Anaheim.



Now the team will have the same nickname as the University of Oregon.  However, it might be wise for Oregon to pick up the “Mighty” label dropped by Anaheim.  The football program fumed after missing out on the BCS despite a 10-1 regular season.  Being described as mighty could help the school gain more national respect in comparison with Ohio State and Notre Dame.  Alternatively, the program could call itself the USC Ducks of Eugene.



Barring a rally to the NHL playoffs, Anaheim’s last game as the Mighty Ducks will be versus the Calgary Flames on April 17.  Despite the significance of the occasion, do not expect the players to shed any tears.  Just a few teeth.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Seton Hall Improves By 71 Points On Tobacco Road

The Seton Hall basketball team has made two trips to the Raleigh-Durham area this season.  Some would argue that the squad did not really show up the first time – in a humiliating 93-40 loss at Duke in November.  On Wednesday, the Pirates tried their luck at North Carolina State.  Seton Hall scored an 83-65 upset, thereby improving by 71 points since the previous trip to Tobacco Road.



The reversal is sure to boost the Pirates, who in the fiasco at Cameron Indoor Stadium had trailed 43-13 at halftime and shot 24% for the game.  Wednesday’s win was a particularly welcome change for Seton Hall players Kelly Whitney, Jamar Nutter, and Paul Gause.  Each member of the trio scored in double figures against the Wolfpack, after combining for 6 points on 2-24 shooting against the Blue Devils.  They had been so bad in Durham, Duke could have played Robin Williams instead of Shelden Williams and still won going away.



This time around, it was the #14-ranked Wolfpack’s turn to be humiliated.  Apparently,  N.C. State was overconfident in playing a team called the Pirates.  The Wolfpack is more familiar with the East Carolina Pirates, who are 0-5 in Conference USA play.  Also, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been irrelevant since Barry Bonds decided that San Francisco would be a wonderful place to be surly to reporters.  Furthermore, N.C. State’s scouting reports considered the Pirates to be poor ballhandlers because they had to dribble with hooks instead of hands.



The Wolfpack may also have been confused because the game was broadcast on ESPN Classic.  Seton Hall had played Villanova on the channel last week, but N.C. State had no such experience.  Seeing the ESPN Classic banner, many Wolfpack players were unsure of whether the contest had already been played or not.  Numerous spectators, hearing that their school would be featured on ESPN Classic, waited in vain to see Lorenzo Charles slam home Derrick Whittenberg’s air ball.



Seton Hall would love to get back to its own glory days, reaching their peak in 1989.  In that season, The Pirates routed Duke in the Final Four and came within three seconds of defeating Michigan for the national championship.  For his efforts, P.J. Carlesimo was named national coach of the year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.  Even though his team came up short in the finals, P.J. was anything but a choker – back then, Latrell Sprewell’s hands were nowhere near his throat.



Seton Hall’s triumph in Raleigh was also part of a great week for the Big East.  Last Saturday, Georgetown shocked the sports world by giving Duke its first loss.  The upset allowed Big East member Connecticut to ascend to the top spot.  Seven conference teams are in this week’s AP poll, with Villanova and West Virginia joining UConn in the top 10.  However, West Virginia experienced an upset of its own on Wednesday, falling to Marshall.  Amazingly, it was not Marshall University, but St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk, who Pittsnogled the Mountaineers all by himself.



Virginia Tech hopes for a similar Tobacco Road reversal this week.  Earlier this season, the Hokies nearly escaped Durham with a stunning upset.  However, Sean Dockery’s miracle buzzer-beater gave the Blue Devils a 77-75 victory.  After tonight’s rematch in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech makes its second trip to Tobacco Road on Saturday, taking on Wake Forest.  If the Hokies replicate Seton Hall’s 71-point improvement, they will defeat the Demon Deacons by 69 points.



As for Seton Hall, they will travel to Syracuse on Sunday to take on Jim Boeheim’s 24th-ranked team.  The Pirates are excited about playing consecutive road games against ranked opponents.  It gives them two opportunities to get out of New Jersey.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Kobe & The Steelers: A Comparison

On Sunday, both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kobe Bryant made a huge splash in the sports world.  The Steelers defeated the Denver Broncos 34-17 to advance to the Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks.  Bryant scored an amazing 81 points – second all-time to Wilt Chamberlain’s legendary 100-point outing – in the Lakers’ 122-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors.  Like the Steelers, Kobe hails from Pennsylvania.  However, the comparisons do not stop there.



Steelers:  Scored 10 second-half points in Sunday’s victory

Kobe:  Scored 55 second-half points in Sunday’s victory


Steelers:  Feature a beloved running back called The Bus

Kobe:  Plays on a team owned by a Buss


Steelers:  Left Colorado with the AFC championship trophy

Kobe:  Often left Colorado with a team of lawyers


Steelers:  Committed no turnovers on Sunday

Kobe:  Committed a completely unacceptable three turnovers on Sunday


Steelers:  Considered giant killers after eliminating the Colts last week

Kobe:  Feuded with a giant for years before making up with him last week


Steelers:  Inspire fans to wave the Terrible Towel

Kobe:  Plays with the terrible Kwame Brown


Steelers:  Does not have a reputation as a passing team

Kobe:  Does not have a reputation as a passing player


Steelers:  Subdued the Snake on Sunday

Kobe:  Subdued the Raptors on Sunday


Steelers:  Play in a stadium named for ketchup

Kobe:  Plays in an arena named for office supplies, which don’t taste as good


Steelers:  Sunday’s opponent won back-to-back Super Bowls in the late 1990s

Kobe:  Sunday’s opponent might have won back-to-back games in the late 1990s


Steelers:  Described as “unrelenting” by coach Bill Cowher in press conferences

Kobe:  Described as “uncoachable” by coach Phil Jackson in a book


Steelers:  Play in a city that has three rivers

Kobe:  Plays in a city that has Joan Rivers


Steelers:  Felt that Sunday’s win smelled as sweet as a rose

Kobe:  Spent much of Sunday’s win embarrassing Jalen Rose


Steelers:  Hope to win a Super Bowl ring

Kobe:  Hopes he doesn’t need to buy another $4 million ring


Steelers:  Championship glory days evoke images of Lynn Swann’s grace

Kobe:  Championship glory days evoke images of Mark Madsen’s dancing



Now the Steelers will go to Detroit in search of a title.  They hope to fare better than Kobe did there two years ago, when he had to watch the Pistons celebrate.  In one important way, the Steelers’ situation is the reverse of Kobe in 2004.  They’re the team with Big Ben on their side.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Davis To Miss Five Games; Knicks Teammates Jealous

On Thursday, the NBA suspended New York Knicks forward Antonio Davis five games for entering the stands during Wednesday’s game in Chicago.  The suspension began with last night’s 105-79 home loss to Detroit.  Teammates on the 13-25 Knicks are united in how they view Davis’s absence from the team.  They are enormously jealous.



The incident occurred during overtime of New York’s 116-114 loss to the Bulls.  Davis entered the stands as his wife Kendra was seemingly in a confrontation with a nearby fan.  He remained calm as the potentially explosive situation was defused.  However, while acknowledging Davis’s restraint, the league office emphasized that no player may enter the stands under any circumstances.  An NBA spokesman commented, “David Stern has been entrusted with maintaining the integrity of the game.”  He added, “The only thing the commissioner has failed to maintain is the ability of our players to hit a mid-range jump shot.”



Reports have surfaced today that Davis staged the incident to intentionally get away from his lowly team for a few games.  With the game in Chicago, Davis hired an improv performer from the city’s famed Second City troupe to put on the scene with his wife.  Michael Axelrod, the performer in question, asked nearby spectators for an occupation, an everyday household object, and a family vacation destination before commencing the argument with Mrs. Davis.  As he was led away by security, Axelrod shouted, “And blackout!”



Disgusted by New York’s horrendous season, Davis apparently used his own improv background to conceive of a way to escape the misery for a few games.  After beginning his career in Indiana, Davis has insisted on playing in cities where improv has a strong foothold – Toronto, Chicago, and New York.  He considered backing out on the scheme after scoring a season-high 16 points against the Bulls.  However, as he saw Axelrod and his wife performing the scene as planned, he knew he had to enter the stands.  No performer worth his salt can miss his cue.  Davis had no intention of inflicting physical harm, unless Axelrod tried to hog the scene to himself and failed to give Mrs. Davis a chance to shine.



Knicks teammates are admitting that Davis had a brilliant plan and wished that they had conceived it themselves.  “That’s the way to go – head into the seats, so they have to suspend you, but don’t hurt anyone,” commented one player.  He added, “Nobody wants to miss the whole season like Ron Artest, but I’d kill for a few games off from the losing.”  Davis ingeniously arranged matters so that his first game off was an inevitable pounding from the Pistons, leading another teammate to call him “a rebounding Einstein.”



Look for players from other downtrodden teams to draw inspiration from Davis.  After the opening tip of an upcoming game in Atlanta, do not be surprised if three Hawks starters simultaneously dash into the stands in quest of two weeks off from defeat.  The Portland Trail Blazers will also have players joining the spectators.  However, this activity has already been taking place.  For years, Trail Blazers have commonly wandered up the aisles in search of quality reefer.



Davis has used the NBA’s prohibition on entering the stands to his advantage.  Now he has a well-earned break until the Knicks’ January 30 matchup in Atlanta.  It is clear that his incident is in no way comparable to last year’s ugly scene in Auburn Hills.  After all, Ron Artest had no improv training.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Awards Season Primer For Sports Fans

The Golden Globes have been awarded, and it’s just over a month until the Academy Awards ceremony.  Below are 20 films that are likely to be in contention for major honors at the Oscars.  Each movie’s connection to the sports world is summarized.



Brokeback Mountain:  Skiing the Olympic downhill race while drunk, Bode Miller breaks his back on a Torino mountain.


Capote:  A New York journalist travels to Kansas to investigate an event that has haunted local residents – Roy Williams’s departure to Chapel Hill.


Cinderella Man:  As part of a treasured annual college basketball tradition, a mid-major coach leads his team to the Sweet 16, then bolts for greener pastures.


The Constant Gardener:  The Chicago White Sox’ home opener is delayed when an obsessive-compulsive groundskeeper refuses to leave the field.


Crash:  The first SportsCenter highlight of any NASCAR race.


Good Night, and Good Luck:  Words uttered to former teammates by the endless parade of USC players declaring for the NFL draft.


A History of Violence:  The National Hockey League unveils its catchy new slogan.


Munich:  NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announces the 2006 location of the New Orleans Saints’ home games.


Hustle & Flo:  Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose inspires Florence Griffith-Joyner to a record-setting performance at the 1988 Summer Olympics.


Junebug:  The sickness NBA commissioner David Stern will feel after another low-rated Finals series.


King Kong:  After stealing from one too many boxers, promoter Don King flees to Hong Kong.


Match Point:  What Roger Federer’s Australian Open opponents will face after half an hour of play.


Memoirs of a Geisha:  The Japanese influx into the major leagues reaches another level when a geisha signs with the San Francisco Giants and wins the National League batting title.


Mrs. Henderson Presents:  Rickey Henderson’s wife introduces her husband at his 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame enshrinement.  Rickey requires some convincing after originally insisting, “Rickey wants Rickey to present Rickey.”


North Country:  The only slapstick comedy among the contenders, providing a profile of the NFC North.


Pride and Prejudice:  Two qualities in large supply for Adolph Rupp during his Kentucky basketball coaching career.


The Squid and the Whale:  Two discarded suggestions in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ search for a new nickname.


Syriana:  A look into the world of Oil and money – specifically, the contentious 1980s contract negotiations between Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd and the Boston Red Sox.


Transamerica:  A recap of all of Larry Brown’s coaching stops.


Walk the Line:  In a move considered a formality by most observers, the NBA officially legalizes traveling.


So there’s your primer for the big Hollywood event on February 27.  If you’re looking for insight on red carpet fashion, go somewhere else.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Great Day For Pittsburgh and the Panthers

At the start of the day, three home teams had very high hopes.  The Indianapolis Colts planned to begin their march to the Super Bowl.  The Chicago Bears looked to advance to their first NFC championship game in 17 years.  And the Louisville Cardinals anticipated a victory over a previously undefeated opponent.  All three fell short of their goals.  This Sunday, the sports world belonged to Pittsburgh and the Panthers.



Most notably, the Pittsburgh Steelers stunned the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts 21-18 in an AFC playoff showdown.  Pittsburgh dominated the first three quarters before Indianapolis closed to within three with 4:24 remaining.  On fourth down, Peyton Manning was sacked on his own 2-yard line with 1:20 remaining, seemingly ending matters as reporters thought of 20 different ways to ask, “Peyton, what’s that stuck in your throat?”



The contest then ended as everyone expected it would.  First, a future Hall of Fame running back (Jerome Bettis) fumbled the ball away.  Then, a cornerback (Nick Harper) who was allegedly stabbed by his wife yesterday picked up the ball and looked to score a touchdown that would put the Music City Miracle and Immaculate Reception to shame.  The return was stopped when quarterback Ben “Call Me Butkus” Roethlisberger made the tackle.  Eventually, the Colts attempted a tying field goal, missed badly by the most accurate kicker in NFL history (Mike Vanderjagt).  I’m pretty sure a bunch of dinosaurs then came onto the field and started doing the Electric Slide.



Just as predictable as Pittsburgh’s triumph was the Carolina Panthers’ high-flying 29-21 victory in Chicago.  In November, the Bears kept the Panthers out of the end zone in a 13-3 triumph.  Today it took Carolina 55 seconds to score a touchdown.  A Bears defense that had allowed 61 points in eight home regular season games was grilled like a Chicago-style hot dog.  Carolina’s Steve Smith had 218 receiving yards, turning the Monsters of the Midway into the Windy City Wimps.  Just don’t tell them I said that.  Please.



However, the Panthers’ victory came at a price.  Running back DeShaun Foster, already subbing for the injured Stephen Davis, broke his ankle.  More seriously, Carolina’s win means that sports fans must endure another week of Jake “Daylight Come and You Gotta” Delhomme references from ESPN’s Chris Berman.  I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve that.



With karma on the side of Pittsburgh and the Panthers, Louisville faced a double whammy against the Pittsburgh Panthers.  The Cardinals entered with a #10 ranking, due to last year’s Final Four run and this year’s impressive victories over… well, due to last year’s Final Four run.  Trailing most of the game, the Panthers rallied for a 61-57 victory.  Sports bars around Pittsburgh erupted.  Because the Steelers were leading at the time.  Most of the city is still unaware that Pitt played a game today.



Pitt’s surprising undefeated run will surely end soon in the difficult Big East.  Louisville is one of four new additions to the league, which now has 16 members.  The Panthers will have a particularly tough time with #3 Villanova, which… hang on a second… this can’t be right…  Okay, they don’t even play Villanova?!  And they’re in the same conference?  How does that make any sense whatsoever?  Anyone?



Somehow, the NHL was immune to the Pittsburgh/Panthers effect.  The Florida Panthers were not in action today, but the lowly Pittsburgh Penguins lost 5-4 to the Nashville Predators.  However, since most of you were not aware of the existence of a team called the Nashville Predators, I’ll move on to the next paragraph.



I feel eminently qualified to comment on a big day for Panthers.  On a glorious day in 1984, my game-winning goal led the Northeast Panthers to the city junior high school soccer championship over the hated Northwest Vikings.  Way back in the days when you could mention Vikings in a sports column without inserting the phrase “sex boat.”  On that day I felt as Steve Smith does today.  Except that he doesn’t wear braces, and he’s not a dork.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

David Souter Mistakenly Elected To Baseball Hall of Fame

This should be a time of tremendous celebration for former major league pitcher Bruce Sutter.  Tuesday he received word that he had been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Today, however, that elation has turned into humiliation.  Cooperstown officials have confirmed that it was actually Supreme Court Justice David Souter who was elected to the Hall.



A review of the ballots revealed that Souter’s name had been erroneously placed on them instead of Sutter’s.  Amazingly, the mistake was not caught by any of the 520 Baseball Writers’ Association of America members who voted.  Observers are speculating that the shock of seeing Gary DiSarcina and Alex Fernandez on the ballot impeded the writers’ attention to detail.



The Souter matter is just one aspect of the ballot fiasco.  154 voters, apparently intending to cast ballots for pitcher Tommy John, actually voted for Elton John.  Additionally, the confusing layout of the ballots may have kept Red Sox slugger Jim Rice out of Cooperstown.  Rice missed election by 53 votes – exactly the number cast for Ralph Nader.



Although the voters clearly intended to elect Sutter, Hall of Fame officials still plan to adhere to the actual ballots cast.  The development is a cruel blow to the 1979 National League Cy Young Award winner, who led the league in saves five times.  No matter how many opinions Justice Souter has written, he can never surpass Sutter’s strikeout of Gorman Thomas to conclude the landmark 1982 case of Cardinals v. Brewers.  However, Sutter has still been denied – a development he is calling “my most painful experience since those five years with the Cubs.”



Souter’s election has also drawn attention away from Senate confirmation hearings for his potential future colleague, Samuel Alito.  Souter could stop by the hearings and confer with Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning, also enshrined in Cooperstown.  Alito would be happy to join them in a baseball discussion, as he has been described as a die-hard Philadelphia Phillies fan.  The nominee lived up to that image after Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy made numerous critical remarks about him during the hearings.  Alito responded by yelling profanities and throwing batteries at Kennedy.



Among Hall of Famers, Souter is most often compared to fielding wizard Ozzie Smith.  The judge is generally not labeled as either a liberal or a conservative, so he has great range to the left and the right.  Unknown at this moment is for what team Souter will enter the Hall.  Sutter would have been enshrined as a Cardinal.  However, Justice Souter could represent the U.S. Supreme Court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court, or in a longshot, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.



Although it is no consolation for Bruce Sutter today, the Hall of Fame plans to take action to ensure that such a fiasco never occurs again.  By all measures, this scenario is a huge embarrassment for officials in Cooperstown.  However, a spokesman noted one positive development that has arisen from the mess: “At least people aren’t asking us about Pete Rose!”

Monday, January 09, 2006

There's No Place Like Home in the ACC & Big Ten

In today’s world, traveling can bring numerous hassles.  Airport security lines are long, freeways are congested, and zeppelin service is appallingly limited.  Leaving home is especially treacherous thus far during conference basketball play in the ACC and Big Ten.  In these leagues, home is where the victory is.



In the ACC, the home team won the first ten conference matchups before Duke routed Wake Forest in Winston-Salem Sunday night.  The Deacons were hampered by the Blue Devils’ accuracy from three-point land, as well as by having a mascot with a bow tie on his chin.  Seriously, why does the Demon Deacon have a bow tie on his chin?  Normal deacons wear their ties in the typical spot – do the demonic ones just have to be different?  If any Wake Forest fans are reading, please clear up this mystery for me.



Similarly, home teams are 9-1 in Big Ten conference play.  As in the ACC, the only road winner was the overwhelming preseason favorite - Northwestern???  Really?  Someone’s messing with me – I need to check this out.  (Pause for “Jeopardy!” theme music).  Okay, it’s actually true!  The Wildcats defeated Minnesota 57-49 in Minneapolis.  With the Vikings’ season completed, another team stepped up to embarrass Twin Cities sports fans.



No team exemplified the power of the home court more than Illinois.  On Thursday, the sixth-ranked Illini knocked off #7 Michigan State 60-50 in Champaign.  Illinois guard Dee Brown looked like a national player of the year candidate with a career-high 34 points.  In Iowa on Saturday, Brown played like Dee, the sarcastic sister from “What’s Happening!!” – managing a mere six points on 2-13 shooting in a 63-48 defeat.  The ghost of Rerun shed a tear as the Illini fell from the ranks of the unbeaten.



Other highly-ranked teams found the road to be unkind over the weekend.  Michigan State stumbled again on Sunday – this time at Wisconsin.  #11 Boston College dropped to 0-2 as a new ACC member with a loss at Georgia Tech.  Still not used to its new conference, the Eagles originally traveled to Georgetown before scrambling to Atlanta in time for tip-off.  #14 Maryland succumbed 84-70 at Miami, due largely to dominating performances from Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade.



#13 North Carolina State was hoping to be different on Saturday.  The Wolfpack was in the unaccustomed position of being higher-ranked than hated rival, #25 North Carolina.  The Pack left Chapel Hill in a much more familiar state – on the losing end.  The Tar Heels scored the last 13 points in an 82-69 victory.  UNC’s proficiency from the foul line was key.  The Heels converted 26 of 28 free throw attempts, with freshman star Tyler Hansbrough hitting all 14 of his tries.  As a result, Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek plans to devote extra practice time to improving his team’s free throw defense.



Surprisingly, this trend was almost disrupted early as Virginia Tech nearly shocked Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 4.  Leading by 11 points with under five minutes remaining, Duke almost collapsed as Mike Krzyzewski believed in his American Express commercials a little too much.  During time-outs, he was heard screaming to his team, “Don’t ask me what to do – I don’t think of myself as a basketball coach!!!”  Only Sean Dockery’s 40-foot buzzer beater saved the Blue Devils from a stunning one-point defeat.  As consolation for the Hokies, Marcus Vick won a halftime “Step on the Most Guys” contest over Christian Laettner.



It remains to be seen whether the road woes in these powerhouse conferences will continue.  On Tuesday, nationally-ranked Wisconsin and North Carolina travel to unranked Minnesota and Virginia Tech, respectively.  Although favored, Badgers coach Bo Ryan and Tar Heel leader Roy Williams should take no chances.  They should leave the road jerseys at home “by mistake” and have their players suit up in the home whites.

Friday, January 06, 2006

What Can't Brown Do For You?

Kermit the Frog once noted that it’s not easy being green.  Perhaps the lovable Muppet would like to change colors.  This week in the sports world, it’s been a great time to be Brown.



Most notably, Texas head coach Mack Brown became a national champion on Wednesday as his Longhorns edged USC in a classic Rose Bowl.  The triumph was vindication for a coach long branded with the “can’t win the big one” label.  Immediately after the game, a large monkey dejectedly jumped off his back, asking for directions to Alex Rodriguez’s house.  On the heels of Roy Williams’s NCAA championship and Phil Mickelson’s two major victories, unemployment levels for monkeys are at an all-time high.



On Thursday, Illinois guard Dee Brown continued the theme with a career-high 34 points in a 60-50 win over Michigan State.  The sixth-ranked Illini remained unbeaten and increased their home winning streak to 30 games.  Opponents are now referring to visits to Illinois as “Andre” – a bad-tasting Champaign.  The Spartans were able to stay in the contest thanks to a team-high 17 points from, of course, Shannon Brown.  Dee Brown credited his teammates for setting good screens and finding him for open looks.  Clearly he appreciates the value of teamwork, but it’s a good thing he did not go on to say, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Illini.’”



Browns also showed what they can do on Monday.  Despite holding the second-worst record in the NBA (take that, Atlanta!), head coach Larry Brown led the New York Knicks to a triple-overtime victory over the first place Phoenix Suns.  Larry was so inspired, he announced that he will continue as the Knicks head coach for two more weeks before moving on to coach the New Orleans Saints.  Also on Monday, Georgia did lose to West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl, but you cannot blame Thomas Brown.  His 52-yard touchdown run in the second quarter helped the Bulldogs to get back into the game.  However, the Mountaineers, like Bad Bad Leroy Brown, proved to be meaner than junkyard Dawgs.



Speaking of dogs, the trend could even bode well for Lakers forward Kwame Brown.  He is confident that he might even score a point in tonight’s matchup with Philadelphia.  Reached for comment, Lakers coach Phil Jackson remarked, “I’ve coached Michael, Scottie, and Kobe, and none of them were the #1 overall pick.  And this clown was?  Looks like I can forget about that zen state for a while.”



The Brown factor greatly simplifies forecasting this Saturday’s NFL playoff games.  The Washington Redskins and New England Patriots each have two Browns on the roster.  Therefore, the Sunshine State will mourn the losses of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars.  All playoff teams are breathing a sigh of relief that they do not have to face the Cleveland Browns, who have not won an NFL championship since Jim Brown led them to the 1964 title.  Jim Brown is the greatest athlete to share his last name with his team, just ahead of legendary Anaheim goaltender Jacques Mightyduck.



With such a great run for Browns, it is unfortunate that Charlie Brown is not in action this week.  Surely Lucy would not pull the ball away, and Charlie would make the winning kick.  Penn State and Florida State would immediately offer him a scholarship.  And the little red-haired girl would finally be his.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rose Bowl Field To Be Named For Vince Young

In use since 1922, The Rose Bowl Stadium is one of the most storied venues in football.  The Pasadena landmark has seen its share of legendary performances over the years.  However, no one has been better in that stadium than a certain quarterback from Texas.  As a result, stadium officials announced that its field will be named Vince Young Field.



Technically, the city of Pasadena owns the Rose Bowl.  However, Pasadena mayor Bill Bogaard explained why the decision was a no-brainer.  “He just dominated the Rose Bowl the past two years,” explained the mayor.  “Young proved that he truly owns that field.”



Defenders from USC and Michigan would not disagree.  In last year’s Rose Bowl, Young rushed for four touchdowns and threw for another to lead Texas to a 38-37 victory over the Wolverines.  With the stakes even higher on Wednesday, he did the same thing to USC.  Young rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns, capped by the national title-winning dash with 19 seconds remaining in the 41-38 triumph.  After rendering so many Trojans ineffective, Young was offered an endorsement deal by LifeStyles condoms.  The only consolation for USC fans was that Will Ferrell was funnier than Matthew McConaughey in ABC’s pre-game promo.



Naming the playing surface after a person has become common in college football and basketball in recent years.  That scenario is now true for UCLA’s home venues in both sports, with Pauley Pavilion being the site of John and Nell Wooden Court.  It is unusual for a school to play on a field named for someone with no affiliation with that university.  However, UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell is just relieved that his porous defense does not have to face Young.  In fact, Dorrell dropped to his knees and begged, “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t make us play against that guy!”



However, Texas is attempting to add a game with UCLA to next fall’s schedule.  Providing another opportunity to play in Pasadena could help to keep the junior from bolting to the NFL.  A UCLA-Texas matchup would be a natural occasion to officially dedicate Vince Young Field, with September 16 being the best bet.  The Bruins are off that week, and the Longhorns also have a bye – a game versus Rice.  Texas would send most of its roster to Pasadena, while the Sigma Chi intramural team takes on the Owls.



Young is also lobbying the NFL to place a team in the Rose Bowl Stadium.  The Los Angeles area has been without a pro football franchise since the Rams and Raiders left town in 1995.  If a team lands in Pasadena, it surely would do whatever it takes to add Young to its roster.  Playing eight games a season on his namesake field would allow him to dominate the game like John Elway, Joe Montana, and Johnny Unitas could only dream of doing.  The sport would then be renamed “Youngball,” and the championship game would be the “Vince Bowl.”



Although he missed out on the Heisman Trophy, having his name on the field will ensure that Vince Young’s name will endure in the college football world.  Vince Young Field does pay tribute to a Longhorn who did win the Heisman, Ricky Williams.  The playing surface has great grass.

Monday, January 02, 2006

NFL Snubs Jacksonville, Invites Notre Dame To Playoffs

The Jacksonville Jaguars completed a 12-4 regular season with a 40-13 rout of Tennessee on Sunday.  Often ignored by the national sports media, the Jaguars planned on earning everyone’s respect with a postseason victory in New England this Saturday.  However, the NFL has denied them that opportunity.  The league passed over Jacksonville in order to grant Notre Dame a wild card berth in the AFC playoffs.



The decision shocked most observers, considering that wild card invitations were believed to be granted to NFL non-division winners with the best records.  A league spokesman noted that that method has been followed each year as a matter of tradition.  However, a little-known provision in the league bylaws dictates that only division winners receive automatic postseason bids.  Also, the NFL must invite Notre Dame to the playoffs if it finishes in the top 6 of the BCS rankings.  The Irish squeaked in at #6, earning quarterback Brady Quinn a bid to Wimbledon and the Masters as well.  The league chose Pittsburgh for the other at-large spot in the AFC.



Television ratings appear to be behind the NFL’s decision.  Notre Dame will travel to New England for a Saturday night game on ABC.  The matchup provides a compelling storyline as Irish head coach Charlie Weis takes on the team he helped to three Super Bowl titles as offensive coordinator.  The Golden Domers are sure to draw larger ratings than the relatively anonymous Jaguars, who had zero appearances on “Monday Night Football” this season.  An ABC executive even referred to Jacksonville tailback Fred Taylor as Fred Sanford.  Then he performed his rendition of the “Sanford and Son” theme song, which will run through your head long after you’re finished with this article.



This latest slap in the face is yet another example of disrespect toward the Jaguars.  Despite the team’s 12-4 record, defensive tackle Marcus Stroud is its lone representative on the Pro Bowl roster.  The San Diego Chargers, at 9-7, are sending six players to Hawaii.  Jacksonville wide receiver Jimmy Smith has been to five previous Pro Bowls and is seventh all-time in NFL receptions, but he is far less famous than many of his contemporaries.  Asked for his thoughts on the longtime star, a league official responded, “Jimmy Smith is great!  I love ‘The West Wing,’ and I hope he wins the election over Alan Alda.”



Particularly infuriating to the franchise is that Notre Dame is not even the best team in college.  An NFL spokesman explained that the USC-Texas winner could not take on the Patriots due to the short turnaround after Wednesday’s Rose Bowl.  However, Ohio State dominated the Irish with 617 yards of offense in its 34-20 Fiesta Bowl victory.  While impressed with the Buckeyes, the spokesman noted that OSU head coach Jim Tressel has never worked with Bill Belichick of the Patriots.  Therefore, Tressel cannot provide an angle as interesting as the mentor/disciple relationship between Belichick and Weis.  “Besides,” added the spokesman, “Tressel’s sweater vests are really lame.”



Notre Dame is unlikely to provide much resistance to the defending champs, who are 9-0 in the postseason with Tom Brady at quarterback.  However, the Irish are happy about one thing.  Brady won’t be throwing to Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes.