Tuesday, February 28, 2006

ABC To Launch "Touchdown Dancing With the Stars"

Jerry Rice won three Super Bowl rings during his brilliant NFL career.  However, he came up just short in his most recent bid for a championship, settling for second place in Sunday’s Dancing With the Stars.  His performance was strong enough that ABC looks to continue showcasing star wide receivers and fancy footwork.  This spring, the network will entertain viewers with Touchdown Dancing With the Stars.



ABC has been thrilled by the huge ratings enjoyed during both seasons of Dancing With the Stars.  In its initial run, the show was last summer’s most successful series.  Ratings were stellar once again this January and February, with singer Drew Lachey teaming with professional dancer Cheryl Burke to triumph in the finals.  The NFL’s popularity led ABC to choose Touchdown Dancing With the Stars as its next version, over second choice Chicken Dancing With the Stars.



The new show will match celebrities with NFL wide receivers who have demonstrated great skill in performing touchdown dances.  Participants have not been announced, but Cincinnati native Lachey is expected to return and join up with Bengals star Chad Johnson.  Also, New Orleans wideout Joe Horn will reportedly team up on a cell phone routine with Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” guy.



One high-profile player who will not participate is Terrell Owens.  The soon-to-be former Eagle was highly coveted for the competition, given the variety of celebrations he has staged in the end zone.  However, T.O. reportedly balked when told that he would have to be part of a team.  ABC insiders also claim that he was disruptive in meetings with network executives.  Reportedly, the last straw occurred when Owens engaged in a conference room fight with ABC’s self-proclaimed network ambassador.



The competition will take place in the end zone of an actual football field.  The partners will take turns, alternating as the scorer and the teammate joining the celebration.  While creativity is crucial, the technical portion is just as important.  Slipping on the turf or knocking over an official stationed in the end zone could take points away.  During the advanced stages of the competition, conditions of an opposing stadium will be simulated.  Therefore, competitors must execute their routines while being cursed out and having beer thrown at them.



Voting and the elimination process will be similar to Dancing With the Stars.  Professional judges are expected to include touchdown dancing pioneers Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and Ickey Woods.  Results will be based on a combination of voting from the judges and from the viewers – online and by telephone.  Each week, the partners with the lowest score will be knocked out of the competition.  Literally, as they will receive crushing hits from Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher.



In the end, a talented field will narrow down to one team that gets to be called the champion.  For that reason, ABC compares Touchdown Dancing With the Stars to the NCAA basketball tournament.  It may not be March Madness, but it definitely is the Big Dance.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Redick, Morrison Take Player of the Year Competition To Ridiculous Extreme

College basketball’s major storyline this season has been the stirring duel for player of the year honors between Duke’s J.J. Redick and Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison.  Both are the leaders of top 5 teams, and they are the top two scorers in Division 1.  However, both scored a season-low 11 points in their games today.  Apparently, their competition has gotten so extreme, they even decide to stink on the same day.



Redick went 1-for-6 from the 3-point line and even missed two of his six free throws attempts.  However, thanks to a strong performance by Shelden Williams, Duke turned back Temple 74-66.  More significantly, even in the midst of a subpar performance, Redick became the ACC’s all-time leading scorer, passing Wake Forest’s Dickie Hemric.  Seeing a Blue Devil supplant one of their own is the latest blow in a cruel season for Demon Deacon fans, who have seen Wake sink to the bottom of the ACC standings.  Although the loss of Chris Paul to the NBA has hurt significantly, many observers feel that the college basketball gods are punishing Wake Forest for producing Billy Packer.



Contributing to Redick’s off-day was the defensive effort of Temple, known for its troublesome matchup zone.  Also, he may have feared that Hemric supporters had contacted Owls head coach John Chaney, requesting that “some of your goons say hi to J.J.”  Indeed, Redick likely experienced some fear around the volatile Chaney.  The sharpshooter is not used to hearing a madman scream so many profanities on the sideline.  Except for every day at practice.



Morrison shot 3-for-11 from the field in Gonzaga’s 75-59 victory over San Diego.  J.P. Batista’s 26 points enabled the Zags to improve to 24-3 on the season.  The Bulldogs also increased their home-winning streak to a nation’s best 37 games, proving that teams with two nicknames are very difficult to beat.  However, this success has come at a cost.  With such rude treatment to visitors, the Spokane Chamber of Commerce is having a hard time getting people to come to the city.



Like Temple, San Diego appears to be a tough opponent for a superstar.  The Toreros held Morrison to 16 points in the teams’ earlier meeting – a 64-63 squeaker for Gonzaga.  Reportedly, the All-American was thrown off by confusion about the identity of his opponent.  Morrison apparently thought he was playing San Diego State, refusing to believe that San Diego was a completely different team.  Told that San Diego State had played in New Mexico on Saturday, he responded, “How did they get up here so fast?”



The two superstars have mirrored each other all season, usually with much higher point totals.  On January 28, Redick’s 40 versus Virginia were topped by Morrison’s 42 against Portland.  After Redick tallied 35 against Maryland on February 11, Morrison responded with 34 versus Stanford.  With the two inextricably linked, commentator Dick Vitale spent much of the Gonzaga-Stanford broadcast talking about Redick.  Making that game just like any other he works.



All season long, the two superstars have staged their duel while three time zones apart.  This competition may be the most famous cross-country rivalry since the East Coast – West Coast rap feuds of the 1990s.  Except that it’s between white guys.  Oh, and that murder thing isn’t part of it.



Some have likened this competition to the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run duel in 1998.  Like Redick and Morrison, those two captured the attention of America’s sports fans.  And like the college superstars did on Saturday, they could also perform badly on the same day.  Just remember them in Congress last March.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

U.S. Men's Hockey Hopes Are Finnished

The Torino Games are the fourth in which American hockey star Chris Chelios has represented his country.  The grueling schedule is a challenge even for young legs, much less a 44-year-old defenseman.  Having his best interests in mind, Finland’s national team figured that the future Hall of Famer could use a few extra days off before his next game with the Detroit Red Wings.  Thanks to the Finns’ 4-3 quarterfinal victory, Chelios and his U.S. mates will have plenty of rest before resuming the NHL schedule.



The defeat capped a miserable performance in Italy for the Americans, four years after capturing the silver medal in Salt Lake City.  The U.S. team wound up 1-4-1, with all four losses decided by one goal.   The “close, but no cigar” results even spread to the American fans in attendance.  Attempting the “U-S-A” cheer, supporters consistently stumbled on the last letter.  On the bright side, due to a 4-1 victory in the qualifying round, the U.S. team simply owns Kazakhstan.



On the other hand, the victory continued a dominant run for the Finns, who are seeking the first ice hockey gold medal in the nation’s history.  Led by Anaheim star Teemu Seelane, Finland is now 6-0 in these Olympics.  Before today’s contest, the team had outscored its opponents 19-2.  In their quest for perfection, these Finns may emulate an unblemished group of Phins – the 1972 Miami Dolphins.  Reportedly, a Finland defeat would lead former Miami linebacker Nick Buoniconti to break out the champagne.



Finland does enjoy a proud Olympic history, having hosted the Summer Games in Helsinki in 1952.  The nation was particularly successful in Olympic competition during the 1920s.  Distance runner Paavo Nurmi captured nine gold medals – equal to the number won by Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis many decades later.  Meanwhile, speed skater Clas Thunberg was dominant on his way to five gold medals.  His success made a huge gamble pay off for Nike, which spent millions on its ubiquitous “joinclas.com” advertisements.



The United States and Finland also share a significant connection in Olympic ice hockey history.  After shocking the Soviet Union in 1980, the U.S. still had to defeat the Finns to claim the gold medal.  Future Hall of Famer Jari Kurri and his Finnish mates led after two periods, but the Americans rallied for a 4-2 victory to complete the Miracle on Ice.  Unfortunately for this year’s U.S. team, no such magic was forthcoming.  As one player put it, “We just couldn’t get our Eruzione on.”



Geography may be the key for the U.S. men’s hockey team.  Its last gold medal was achieved in the magical run of 1980.  Those Olympics were held in Lake Placid, New York.  The only medal of any kind since then was the silver from the 2002 Salt Lake City games.  Therefore, it is crucial for the Americans’ chances to play in a U.S. city with “Lake” in its title.  Vancouver, the 2010 Winter Games host, is close enough to the U.S. that American hockey players could be fooled into thinking that it is part of the States.  The United States Olympic Committee could further the psychological ploy by referring to the host city as Lake Vancouver.



In reality, of course, the next host country is Canada, which suffered its own hockey disappointment today.  Its hopes to repeat as the gold medalist were dashed 2-0 by Russia.  As a result, there will still be a semifinal matchup between bordering nations.  Chances are, Russia vs. Finland isn’t the one that NBC wanted.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

College Basketball Fans Stunned As No High-Profile Coaches Resign Over Weekend

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, college basketball fans are eagerly awaiting the drama of March Madness.  Compelling storylines are abundant as we turn to the homestretch.  However, this weekend was notable for what did NOT happen.  Amazingly, the entire weekend passed without the resignation of a high-profile coach.



The tranquility of the past three days stood in stark contrast to the preceding week.  Missouri coach Quin Snyder began the turnover on February 10, stepping down in the midst of a hugely disappointing season.  Conference rival Eddie Sutton followed suit five days later, turning over control of the Oklahoma State program – and hopefully his car keys – to son Sean.  On Thursday, Indiana coach Mike Davis announced his resignation - effective at the end of the season - and denied rumors that he plans to officially change his name to “Not Bobby Knight.”



Reached for comment, Big XII commissioner Kevin Weiberg refused to confirm that no conference coaches resigned over the weekend.  Having seen Snyder and Sutton step down, Weiberg assumed that a third coach would soon follow suit.  He briefly believed that changes had taken place at Nebraska and Kansas State, with Barry Collier and Jim Wooldridge, respectively, taking over on an interim basis.  Weiberg was shocked to learn that both Collier and Wooldridge are in their sixth season as head coach at those schools.  Still holding out hope that a resignation was out there, the commissioner then asked, “Well, didn’t Bobby Knight do something nutty this weekend?”  Told that the Texas Tech coach had not, Weiberg lamented, “Oh great, I lost another bet!”



Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese also felt it was too soon to say with certainty that none of his conference’s coaches had quit.  “We have something like 36 schools in our league now, “noted the commissioner.  “Do you really think I can keep track of them all?”  To emphasize his point, Tranghese admitted that he had found out just last week that South Florida is now a Big East member.



The coaching turnover has placed Iowa coach and former Indiana star Steve Alford squarely in the spotlight.  However, Alford certainly will not leave his current position during the season – if he does at all.  Still, members of the media will continue to hound the Hawkeyes coach with questions about the opening at his alma mater.  At a press conference after Iowa’s upset loss to Minnesota on Saturday, one reporter asked point-blank, “Coach, are you leaving Iowa City for Bloomington?”  Alford responded that his attention is entirely focused on his Hawkeyes at the present time.  After a pause, the reporter followed up, “Okay, are you leaving NOW?”  Another writer brought the focus back to basketball, inquiring, “Coach Alford, you have a week off until your showdown with Illinois in Champaign.  After today’s loss, what will you emphasize to your team in practice and – are you leaving NOW?”



The uneventful weekend is sure to please commentator and coach’s advocate Dick Vitale.  Dickie V has lobbied the NCAA to enact legislation prohibiting any coaches from ever being fired.  Vitale denied being soft on coaches, pointing out that his proposal calls for a mandatory one-game suspension for any coach who commits murder or masterminds a terrorist conspiracy.  In the meantime, he has his commentary template ready for the next coach who resigns under pressure: “ _____ is a special, special guy.  He is a huge asset to the coaching fraternity and won’t be out of a job for long.  And as great of a coach he is, _____ is an even better person.”



Now the focus turns back to the on-court action.  Traditional powerhouses such as Arizona and Syracuse are fighting for their tournament lives.  However, they add no such excitement to the coaching turnover watch.  Alas, the jobs of Hall of Fame coaches Lute Olson and Jim Boeheim are safe.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Darko Era Ends in Detroit

For Detroit Pistons fans, February 14, 2006 will not be remembered for romance.  Instead, this Valentine’s Day will be recalled as the end of an era.  On that night, Pistons supporters had their last glimpse of Darko Milicic in a Detroit uniform.



Milicic has been traded to the Orlando Magic, along with point guard Carlos Arroyo, for center Kelvin Cato and a future first-round draft pick.  The move is stunning, considering how successful Detroit has been since drafting the Serbia & Montenegro native.  The Pistons have an NBA-best 42-9 record heading into the All-Star break.  Last season they took San Antonio to game 7 before falling in the finals.  And two years ago, with the rookie Darko having a front-row seat for the action, Detroit downed the Los Angeles Lakers to capture the NBA title.  Head coach Larry Brown could not win a title with Allen Iverson, Reggie Miller, or David Robinson.  However, his first season with Milicic resulted in a ring.



Darko’s impact was not unlike that of Magic Johnson, whose Lakers won the championship in his rookie season.  Yes, Magic had 42 points and 15 rebounds in a legendary title-clinching performance in game 6 of the 1980 finals.  However, Milicic’s Pistons wrapped up the title in five games, depriving him of the opportunity for a transcendent game 6 effort in 2004.  The fact that Darko scored just one point during the entire 2004 playoffs may lead skeptics to claim that he could not have gone for 42 in game 6.  Sadly, we will never know.



As basketball fans know, Milicic was the second overall pick in the star-studded 2003 NBA draft.  LeBron James went first, with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade going after Darko.  The other four members of the quintet have far gaudier statistics than Milicic.  However, James, Anthony, and Bosh have yet to win a playoff series.  In last season’s eastern finals, Darko’s Pistons outlasted Wade’s Heat in seven games.  If victories are the ultimate measure of success, Milicic is the runaway winner from the 2003 draft.



Darko may have a kindred spirit in offensive lineman Tony Mandarich, who was the second player chosen in the 1989 NFL draft.  Mandarich followed Troy Aikman, with Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders completing the top five.  Of the five teams who chose those players, Mandarich’s Packers had the best season in 1989 with a 10-6 campaign.  They finished the year with a 20-10 victory over Aikman’s Cowboys.  Humiliated by a 1-15 season, Dallas rued the day it passed over Tony Mandarich to select Troy Aikman.  Every year as the NFL draft arrives, Mandarich is fondly remembered with these words of praise: “As far as busts go, he wasn’t as bad as Ryan Leaf.”



In addition to his winning ways, Milicic has also been notable for his consistency.  In 2003-04, he averaged 1.4 points and 1.3 rebounds per game.  The next season, it was 1.8 points and 1.2 rebounds.  So far this season, Darko has contributed 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds per game.  In contrast, LeBron can be all over the board.  James tallied an impressive 51 points at Utah on January 21, but the previous night he had just 14 against Golden State.  With Milicic, you know what you’re getting – you don’t have to worry about 37-point swings.



What the Pistons were getting in 2006 was near-perfection.  Darko’s three-point miss on Tuesday night was his first misfire from the field since December 17, having shot 7-for-7 in games since then.  Additionally, Milicic has not missed from the line since December 2 – coincidentally, the last time he had a free throw attempt.  Apparently Detroit panicked after Darko’s miss on Tuesday – dealing him away after finally seeing a chink in his armor.



It remains to be seen whether the Pistons can continue their success without such a huge presence buried on their bench.  Head coach Flip Saunders only has four current All-Stars at his disposal in Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, and Rasheed Wallace.  If their efforts fall short of a championship, Detroit’s president of basketball operations Joe Dumars will be haunted by this image: Darko Milicic sitting in his Orlando Magic warm-ups.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Big East Showdown Disrupted By Anti-Gay Protest

Tonight #4 Villanova delighted the home fans with a 69-64 victory over top-ranked Connecticut in Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center.  However, the hard-fought action on the court was only part of the story.  Outside the arena, a conservative group espoused views that were far more combative than the Wildcats and Huskies.  The right-wing protesters denounced UConn for featuring a player named Gay.



The protest was organized by Sending Homosexuals Out Of Town (SHOOT).  Although Connecticut has no known homosexual players on its roster, SHOOT felt that the name of the Huskies star forward promotes an unacceptable lifestyle.  “Rudy Gay’s presence in UConn’s lineup is an affront to God,” remarked one activist.  “If we don’t speak up, soon every coach in America will want a Gay in his locker room.”



SHOOT was particularly interested in Monday’s contest to spread its message.  The matchup of top-5 teams drew 20,859 fans – the largest crowd to attend a college basketball game in Pennsylvania - and ESPN was on hand for the broadcast.  The organization planned to condemn both teams for having a player named Gay.  However, it switched gears after noticing a typo on its copy of the Villanova roster.  #14 on the Wildcats is actually Allan RAY, whose 19 second-half points sparked the victory.



The protest marked the second in three nights for SHOOT, whose members were on hand for Saturday’s Stanford-Gonzaga contest.  College basketball fans are well-acquainted with the play of Gonzaga superstar Adam Morrison.  However, SHOOT was disgusted to learn that the Zags’ roster also includes walk-on guard Stephen Gentry.  With the ESPN GameNight crew on hand, SHOOT members held up signs proclaiming, “God created Adam and Eve – NOT Adam and Steve.”



While SHOOT is still considered an extremist organization by most, the group is gaining visibility.  Although denied by the White House, reports have surfaced that President Bush was in support of Monday’s protest.  Sources note that the conservative president does not actually feel that Gay should be condemned for his last name.  However, President Bush has a sizable bet that Texas will win the national title, so having Gay out of action would help his cause.  SHOOT’s efforts also led baseball slugger Mike Piazza to call a press conference in which he firmly announced that he has no association with Rudy Gay.



Tonight the protesters were mostly jeered by observers outside the Wachovia Center.  Many were unaware of the group’s agenda – they just booed them as a natural reflex for Philly sports fans.  Others made it clear that they condemned the message SHOOT was attempting to spread.  “This is the City of Brotherly Love,” remarked one fan.  “It’s a place for tolerance, not for hate.”  Just then, he noticed a man wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey and screamed, “I HOPE YOU DIE!!!”



The protesters felt that the game’s result was a sign from above.  “His Will gave Villanova the strength to triumph over evil,” noted one SHOOT member.  Specifically, he was referring to center Will Sheridan, who matched his career-high with 13 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds.  The organization also feels that UConn is pre-ordained to fall at West Virginia on Saturday, citing the obscure biblical verse, “And His enemies shall be Pittsnogled.”



Although its members’ views are outside the mainstream, SHOOT is correct that UConn is an affront to God.  On January 28, the Huskies scored a 76-62 road victory at Providence – alma mater of God Shammgod.

Friday, February 10, 2006

An Ill-Informed Guide To Winter Olympic Events

Today the Winter Olympic Games begin in Italy.  Like many sports fans, I have to confess I don’t follow most of these events on an ongoing basis.  And since I have lots of laundry to do today, I haven’t had time to do much research.  So below are my best guesses on the storylines for selected events.



Biathlon:  The intermediate event for aspiring triathletes, after they have mastered the uniathlon.  The process appears to be stressful, as the competitors keep shooting guns during races.


Bobsled:  A drunk guy named Bob hops on a sled and interrupts a race.  After a crash, he goes streaking while humming the Olympic theme.


Cross Country Skiing:  A much easier event than in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.  Italy is a smaller country to cross than the U.S.


Curling:  Much like fencing in the Summer Olympics, but competitors use curling irons as their weapons.


Downhill:  How the American television ratings will go, in comparison to the U.S.-hosted Games in 2002.


Figure Skating:  A letdown for casual viewers since the Tonya and Nancy tabloid-fest in 1994.  As consolation, Michelle Kwan competes in her 16th consecutive Olympiad.


Giant Slalom:  San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds travels to Europe to see the Games.  He maneuvers back and forth to avoid sportswriters’ questions about steroids.


Ice Dancing:  A competition to find the world’s greatest Vanilla Ice impersonator.


Ice Hockey:  As the architect of Canada’s team, Wayne Gretzky hopes for a repeat gold medal.  However, his wife is betting on Sweden.


Luge:  A really cool word to say.  But even the gold medalist will have self-esteem issues, described as a “big-time luger.”


Moguls:  Inspired by the Sundance Film Festival.  Hollywood moguls run through the snow to complete movie deals in record time.


Nordic Combined:  The inspirational unification of East Nordic and West Nordic, after the infamous Nordic Wall is torn down.


Short Track Speedskating:  Why is the track short?  Didn’t they bother to finish it?  And with all these anti-doping efforts, how are athletes allowed to skate on speed?


Skeleton:  A macabre activity in which the corpses of past Olympic greats are put on public display.  As expected, Jesse Owens looks better than the dead Germans.


Super-G:  A rapper who just won a bunch of Grammys.  He’s expected to be signed to a movie deal during the moguls competition.



It remains to be seen who will emerge as the star of these Games.  For Americans, something else is unknown: Do we say Turin or Torino?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Carolina-Duke Recap, In Iambic Heptameter

Duke’s J.J. Redick is well-known as a high scorer and deadly perimeter shooter.  He also has gained attention for writing horrendous poetry.  Much to the chagrin of UNC fans and Duke-haters everywhere, he’s been far more effective with the basketball than he is with a pen.  However, while my three-point prowess lags well behind his, I shoot fewer airballs with my verse.  With that in mind, here’s a poetic summary of last night’s North Carolina-Duke contest.



The game was anxiously awaited throughout Chapel Hill

An upset in the rivalry would generate huge thrills


Last year the hated Dukies won in Cameron by a point

Then Carolina’s rally made the Dome a rockin’ joint


The Heels made sure the fans would feel an even greater joy

When one month later they made a national champion out of Roy


But many thought the next campaign would simply go to hell

Since all the guys they knew were gone, except David Noel


The scene was different for the rivals just eight miles away

They became the favorites as Redick and Williams chose to stay


Another title for Coach K would drive Duke-haters mad

And he would truly make them vomit with those AmEx ads


So in November these teams had a different set of goals

The Devils were number 1, but the Heels were left out of the polls


But UNC surprised, with all the freshmen stepping up

They laid an egg at USC but beat UK at Rupp


Although they’re not the top dog, NIT-bound they just ain’t

With Coach Roy on the sideline and Tyler in the paint


But Redick’s been a superstar with 28 a game

Like Laettner back in ’92, opponents curse his name


His Dukies struggled at home against the Hokies and FSU

But only Georgetown took them down in their first 22


So Duke was a clear favorite in the matchup Tuesday night

But the home fans hoped to storm the court with feverish delight


Last year’s heroes Felton, May and Manuel were in town

But they just watched, and at the half the Heels were five points down


After the break their sloppy play caused Coach Williams to scream

“You’re killing me – stop passing the ball right to the other team!”


So all five starters came out with the Heels 17 behind

Roy even put Mike Copeland in – could he have lost his mind?


But the subs reduced the deficit and answered Coach’s call

Even Quentin Thomas didn’t throw away the ball


The starters then returned and proved to all the Heels weren’t dead

They crashed the boards and hit some 3’s, and soon they were ahead


The upset seemed attainable as fans stayed on their feet

But one guy spoiled all their plans for a party on Franklin Street


His first three years in crunch time, his shot attempts would brick

But this time Carolina had no answer for Redick.


He scored 22 in the second half for a total of 35

Now Morrison’s chance at the Wooden Award is no longer alive


The Heels did close to one after Redick passed into the stands

But next time when he lost the ball, it wound up in Paulus’s hands


Needing a three to tie, Carolina squandered its last chance

It’s moments like that the Heels could really use Rashad McCants


The Devils escaped after Danny Green’s last shot was off the mark

Now they’ll feel more hatred Saturday in College Park


There are no moral victories, but surely Roy feels proud

His gritty team will feel no fear in front of the Cameron crowd


But last year was the time for UNC to have the glory

They’ll be contenders again next year, but now it’s a different story


Like 2004, the Final Four is in the Dukies’ plans

So just like then, expect Chapel Hill to be filled with UConn fans

Monday, February 06, 2006

Cowher Retires From Bridesmaid Coaches Club

“Retirement” was a buzzword in Detroit Sunday night as native son Jerome Bettis ended his career with a Super Bowl championship. However, The Bus was not the only Pittsburgh Steeler to quit something last night. Pittsburgh’s 21-10 victory over Seattle means that coach Bill Cowher has retired from the Bridesmaid Coaches Club.

The club was founded by Hall of Fame Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, who was 0-4 in Super Bowls. Marv Levy and Dan Reeves, also 0-4 in the big game, currently serve on the board. Members of the organization are all long-time, successful coaches who have done everything but win a championship. To knowledgeable sports fans, these men are highly respected. Or, as sports talk radio callers refer to them, losers.

While club members are happy for Cowher’s triumph, they lament the rapidly decreasing membership of the organization. In the past year, titles for North Carolina and Texas have removed Roy Williams and Mack Brown, respectively, from the club. Longtime major league manager Gene Mauch passed away last summer, moving on to a better place where the 1964 Phillies and 1986 Angels play for a World Series title. Jim Boeheim and Larry Brown are among others who have defected in recent years. However, before ending his membership, Cowher did ensure that Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy would be around for at least another year.

In fact, Dungy’s presence is emblematic of the organization’s greatest recent success: its commitment to diversity. Cardinals coach Dennis Green and Cubs manager Dusty Baker are fellow African-American members of the group. However, Green’s membership could be up for review. He was a frequent playoff visitor in Minnesota, but in Arizona his teams have not been good enough to be considered bridesmaids. They haven’t even made it inside the church.

Cowher’s exit leaves a huge void in the organization. Before taking over in Pittsburgh, he spent seven years as an assistant under fellow Bridesmaid Coaches Clubber Marty Schottenheimer. He became a member himself at the young age of 40 after leading the Steelers to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons. He nearly was ineligible even before then, as Pittsburgh outplayed Dallas in many ways in Super Bowl XXX. However, quarterback Neil O’Donnell’s ability to find the open Dallas defender paved the way for Cowher to join the Bridesmaids. Fortunately, new members do not have to actually dress as bridesmaids when they are inducted. Cowher’s mustache and famous jaw would not go well with a frilly pink dress.

Cowher’s exit from the group is permanent. Once a member wins a championship, he completely loses his eligibility. Therefore, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, no matter how many playoff eliminations they experience, are barred from the organization for capturing one World Series title each. Membership in the Bridesmaid Coaches Club is the same as virginity – once you lose it, you can’t get it back.

The organization was hoping to have a farewell dinner in Cowher’s honor. However, despite their best efforts, they weren’t quite able to get it done.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Clemson Looks To Add Chapel Hill High School To Schedule

On Saturday, North Carolina defeated Clemson 76-61 in the Dean Smith Center. The setback was par for the course for the Tigers, who amazingly have never won in Chapel Hill. However, the school plans to take a step to change that statistic. Clemson is close to adding a road game at Chapel Hill High School to its schedule.

Clearly things have not been working against the Tar Heels. Saturday's defeat was the Tigers' 52nd consecutive in their trips to Chapel Hill. The streak ties the Division 1 record for the most consecutive road losses to an opponent. Brown dropped the same number in a row at Princeton before breaking through with a victory in February 2003. The defeat infuriated Princeton alumnus Donald Rumsfeld, leading to the following month's invasion of Iraq.

UNC has generally had the better team in the matchups, but Clemson has fizzled even when it seemingly has had a decent chance. In 1990, the Dale Davis and Elden Campbell-led Tigers finished first in the ACC standings, but they fell 83-60 at the Smith Center. In 1997, a Sweet 16-bound Clemson squad faced a Tar Heel team that entered with a 2-4 ACC record, but UNC emerged with a 61-48 triumph. The Tigers could not even capitalize on a development that should have guaranteed them a victory in Chapel Hill - the coaching tenure of Matt Doherty. Clemson players do not even bother trying to pick up Carolina girls while they are in town, since they clearly have been unable to score or get lucky in Chapel Hill.

Exasperated by this grim history in that city, Clemson is desperate to change things. The Tigers have an eight-day layoff before the Wake Forest game on February 22 in Winston-Salem. Clemson could fill that void without much additional travel by making a trip to Chapel Hill on the 20th. Chapel Hill High's season will be over by then, so scheduling conflicts are not an issue. Critics charge that a high school team could not possibly compete with an ACC program. Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell countered, "Have you seen how we play in that town?"

The teams share the same nickname, so fans could look forward to seeing "Tigers vs. Tigers." Chapel Hill High is 3-19 after Friday's 59-38 loss to Durham Riverside. Therefore, they would only be a three-point favorite against Clemson. Purnell is confident that his team can break through and finally win in Chapel Hill. A victory may not impress the NCAA tournament selection committee, but it could earn Clemson an invitation to the North Carolina high school state playoffs.

Clemson is eagerly anticipating this possible matchup and the tremendous relief a victory would bring. In the meantime, the expansion of the ACC has brought more good news for the Tigers. Next season, they don't have to play at UNC.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A By-The-Roman-Numerals Look At Super Bowl XL

I   Number of Super Bowl appearances Seattle will have made after Sunday, in its XXXth season.  Just III more decades until the next one!


II   Teams in this game who lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars this season.  Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio has denied reports that he will try to claim the Lombardi Trophy after the game.


III   NFC teams who have not reached the Super Bowl, now that the Seahawks have done so.  The others (Detroit, Arizona, New Orleans) have all hosted the big event, minimizing the threat of a participant having home-field advantage.


IV   Super Bowl championships won by the Steelers, including II during the Ford presidency.  No wonder Pittsburgh is favored to win at Ford Field.


V   Consecutive years in which the Steelers played the Raiders in the playoffs, from the MCMLXXII through MCMLXXVI seasons.  The first contest featured the Immaculate Reception, as the Virgin Mary scored the winning touchdown.


VI   Pittsburgh’s seed in the AFC playoffs.  The Steelers failed to make the Super Bowl as the I seed last year, so they wisely won IV fewer games this season.


VII   Pro Bowls for Hall of Fame Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent, who later represented Oklahoma for VIII years in Congress.  Ugly partisan politics on Capitol Hill were nothing compared to facing the Raiders twice a year.


VIII   Postseason touchdown receptions for Hall of Fame Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann.  Like Largent, Swann is entering the political field as a candidate for governor of Pennsylvania.  He has publicly rebuked incumbent Ed Rendell for his stone hands and lack of breakaway speed.


IX   Completions for Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw in each of the Steelers’ first II Super Bowl victories.  The running game was more prominent back then, plus Bradshaw had to share snaps with James Brown, Howie Long, and Jimmy Johnson.


X   Home wins without a loss, including the playoffs, for the Seahawks this season.  Also the name of a popular Pearl Jam album.  By law, any column by a non-Seattle resident that discusses the city must include a reference to grunge music.


XI   Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s position in the first round of the MMIV NFL draft.  VII spots behind another quarterback, Philip Rivers, who has seen less action than Steve Carell’s character before the chest-waxing.


XII   “Man” represented by the Seahawks fans, drawing the wrath of Texas A&M.  The school has filed suit, claiming the rights to the “XIIth Man” phrase.  The Aggies sneaked that extra guy onto the field against Texas – the only way they could keep the score respectable.


XIII   Completions in Green Bay for Matt Hasselback during two seasons as Brett Favre’s backup.  The stress from knowing he had no chance to move up with the Packers caused his hair to fall out.


XIV   Seasons Bill Cowher has been the head coach of the Steelers – longest among active NFL coaches.  Clearly the front office is too lazy to conduct a search for a new guy.


XV   Finalists for this year’s enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Inductees will be announced in Detroit on Saturday.  Shockingly, the finalists include Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.


XVI   Seahawks’ coach Mike Holmgren’s place on the NFL’s all-time regular season victories list.  Alphabetically among all-time coaches, Holmgren comes right behind Bob Hollway, whose career consisted of consecutive IV-IX-I campaigns with the St. Louis Cardinals.  The men who hired Hollway were looking for someone with consistency.


XVII   A guaranteed losing number for these teams.  Pittsburgh allowed this many points in playoff victories over Cincinnati and Denver, and scored this many in an earlier loss to Jacksonville.  Seattle tallied this number twice – in setbacks to Washington and Green Bay.  If either team has X points and scores a touchdown, expect a II-point conversion attempt.


XVIII   Years that Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has owned the Portland Trail Blazers.  Bail payments for players have dropped him a few spots on Forbes’ world’s richest people list.


XIX   Losses for North Carolina in the MMII and MMIII seasons.  Those were the junior and senior years for running back Willie Parker, who rarely saw action.  Now he’s starting for the Steelers in the Super Bowl.  Maybe, just maybe, he could have done okay against Duke.


XX   Ounces in a venti-sized Starbucks coffee.  The law regarding Seattle-related articles, noted in item X above, also holds for Starbucks references.


XXI   Years, before this season, since Seattle had won a playoff game.  The Seahawks faded away at about the same time as Wham! did.  Unlike Andrew Ridgeley, they have returned.


XXII   Consecutive wins for rookie Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu to finish his USC career.  Once they rid themselves of Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, they could finally win national championships.


XXIII   Points for Seattle, to XVI for Pittsburgh, in the last matchup between these teams in MMIII.  The Steelers still have not recovered from the loss.


XXIV   Points scored by Pittsburgh running back Franco Harris, on IV touchdowns, in his Super Bowl appearances.  Franco played half a season in Seattle to finish his career, so it’s hard to know who he’ll pull for on Sunday.


XXV   Career passing attempts for backup Seattle quarterback Seneca Wallace.  So if Hasselback goes down with an injury, you’ll never notice the difference.


XXVI   Points allowed by the Steelers in a regular season loss at Indianapolis.  Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt converted on all IV field goal attempts, proving that he’s totally money against Pittsburgh.


XXVII   All-time playoff wins for Pittsburgh.  But their first postseason game, in MCMXLVII, was a loss to the Eagles.  And for these Steelers, it still stings.


XXVIII   Record number of touchdowns scored by Seattle running back Shaun Alexander in the regular season.  As a result, Alexander received a record number of marriage proposals from fantasy football owners.


XXIX   Years since ABC commentator John Madden coached the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl title.  Sportswriters were up in arms, as the MVP was Fred Biletnikoff, years before the use of spell-check.


XXX   Seconds in a standard commercial.  When everyone at the party is actually paying attention to the screen – even the people who think that a slant pattern has something to do with draperies.


XXXI   NFL teams who will envy Sunday’s winner.  But at least they won’t be tied up with those parades, trips to Disney World, talk shows, etc.


XXXII   Team-record touchdowns thrown by Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg in MCMLXXXIV.  He only trailed Dan Marino by XVI that season.


XXXIII   Yards Dallas cornerback Larry Brown returned an interception to set up the clinching touchdown in a XXVII - XVII Cowboys victory in Super Bowl XXX – Pittsburgh’s last appearance in the big game.  Brown was named Super Bowl MVP and paid tribute to his NBA namesake by switching teams in the offseason.


XXXIV   Points scored by both Pittsburgh and Seattle in their conference championship games.  Adding in the XIV tallied by Carolina against the Seahawks, those III teams outscored Kobe Bryant by I point that day.


XXXV   Points scored by Pittsburgh in a playoff-clinching victory over Detroit in the season finale.  Although the game was in Pittsburgh, fans in the Motor City booing Lions president Matt Millen could still be heard.


XXXVI   Uniform number of Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis.  Rumor has it, Bettis is a Detroit native, but no one has mentioned it this week.


XXXVII   Age of Seattle punter Tom Rouen, the oldest player on either roster.  But since punters get so much media attention, you already knew that.


XXXVIII   Victories, against only VI losses, for the Detroit Pistons thus far.  So in addition to the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals will likely be contested in Motown this year.  Don’t hold your breath on the World Series.


XXXIX   Total points scored in Seattle’s first victory of the season – a XXI – XVIII triumph over Atlanta in Week II.  Michael Vick was distracted during the game by repeated calls from his brother’s attorney.


XL   Extra point attempts, without a miss, for Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed during last year’s regular season.  He was also perfect on XLV attempts this season.  So if he happens to miss one on Sunday, Steelers fans will surely let him slide.