Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mavericks, Bucks Switch Conferences

Although the defending NBA champions reside in Miami, the Western Conference has been considered far superior to its Eastern counterpart. Today, commissioner David Stern made an announcement that will hugely impact the balance of power between the two sides. Effective immediately, the Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks will switch conferences.

The league office made the decision with a forward view toward the NBA finals. The Washington Wizards currently have the best record in the Eastern Conference, but they would be the sixth seed in the West. Meanwhile, Dallas and the Phoenix Suns have been far-and-away the best teams in the NBA. Therefore, most observers expected the NBA finals to be far less suspenseful than the Western Conference finals. Always mindful of ratings, Stern decided to take action. He remarked in today’s press conference, “Why CAN’T the Mavericks play the Suns in the finals? I can do whatever I want – I’m David Stern, dammit!” He then suspended five players for “looking at me the wrong way” before killing a reporter with his bare hands.

The shift of the Bucks and Mavericks appears to make geographical sense. Like all professional sports leagues, the NBA aspires to be like the NFL, which has long considered Dallas to be in the East. Also, Dallas is in the Central Time Zone, so it is natural for the Mavs to be part of the Central Division. Likewise, the Southwest Division is a good fit for Milwaukee, which is in southern Wisconsin and west of Lake Michigan.

With the move to the East, Dallas immediately becomes an overwhelming favorite to reach the finals. The Heat may struggle just to make the playoffs, the Pistons are less fearsome than a year ago, and the Wizards have not figured out how to clone Gilbert Arenas. Participating in the Eastern Conference playoffs will also make life more convenient for Mavs owner Mark Cuban. Each week during the postseason, he can stop by the NBA office in New York to pay his fines in person.

Despite moving to the tougher conference, Milwaukee also stands to benefit. The Bucks will immediately exit last place, since their new division includes the Memphis Grizzlies. They will also be reminded of the glory days of the franchise, as the Bucks were members of the Western Conference when they won the 1971 NBA championship and appeared in the finals three years later. On a related note, management is hoping to add the services of Kareem Abdul-Jabaar in his prime.

Coincidentally, the Bucks’ move to the East in 1980 was brought about by the Mavericks’ entry into the league. Since then, Milwaukee has been a haven for teams who switch conferences. The Brewers went from the American League to the National League in 1998. Marquette shifted from Conference USA to the Big East in 2005. And Richie Cunningham’s Jefferson High School basketball squad is now competing in the Arkansas state playoffs.

While the Super Bowl will still dominate the sports media this week, Stern’s announcement managed to bring major headlines for the NBA. That momentum should continue through the February 18 All-Star Game, as Dirk Nowitzki suits up for the Eastern Conference. The buzz was particularly noticeable in the two cities involved. The switch represents the most high-profile Dallas-Milwaukee swap since J.R. Ewing dealt his brother Bobby for Lenny, Squiggy, and a Big Ragu to be named later.

We will have to wait a few months before we know whether the move pays off in the NBA finals. In the meantime, one Dallas player provided a great omen of his team’s title chances in last night’s 122-102 rout of the Seattle Sonics. Austin Croshere connected seven times from beyond the arc en route to a career-high 34 points. He seemed to have learned something from Tony Romo. If you hope to bring a championship to Dallas, you need to nail your three-pointers against Seattle.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Federer & Other Rogers

Sunday in Melbourne, Roger Federer won his third Australian Open with a straight-set victory over Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez. The superstar from Switzerland now has ten Grand Slam singles titles and is intent on capturing the elusive French Open in June. Clearly, Roger has no peer in men’s tennis. But how does Federer compare to other famous Rogers? Let’s take a look.

Roger Bannister: Broke the four-minute mile
Roger Federer: Breaks opponents within four minutes

Roger Clemens: Consistently triumphed around Andy Pettitte
Roger Federer: Consistently triumphs around Andy Roddick

Roger Corman: Directs gory movies
Roger Federer: Looks like Quentin Tarantino

Roger Craig: Won three titles with the 49ers
Roger Federer: Needs three singles titles to reach 49

Roger Daltrey: Head of a band in which he plays with Pete Townshend
Roger Federer: Wears a headband and plays like Pete Sampras

Roger Federer: Has a punishing forehand
Roger Ebert: Has a punishing thumb

Roger Federer: Last loss was in August at the Cincinnati Masters
Roger Goodell: NFL commissioner often gets disturbing news from Cincinnati

Jolly Roger: Skull and crossbones flag, representing swashbucklers
Roger Federer: Nike client, representing swoosh bucks

Roger Maris: Hit grand slams in New York
Roger Federer: Has won three Grand Slams in New York

Roger Miller: Sang “King of the Road”
Roger Federer: Is king of the hard surface

Roger Moore: Played 007
Roger Federer: Aussie Open foes were 0-for-7

Roger Federer: Possesses great stamina
Roger Murdock: Kareem’s Airplane! character was a co-pilot AND dragged Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes

Roger Federer: Drove opponents crazy in Melbourne, Australia
Roger Murtaugh: Danny Glover’s Lethal Weapon character was driven crazy by a Mel from Australia

Roger Penske: Owns #2 car in NASCAR, run by Brian France
Roger Federer: Settled for #2 last year in France

Roger Federer: Is even better than John McEnroe
Roger Rabbit: Like McEnroe, was an animated star in the 80s

Roger Staubach: Quarterbacked America’s Team
Roger Federer: Makes American players scream

Roger Federer: Has won four straight titles on Wimbledon’s grass surface
Roger Waters: Pink Floyd leader always sounds best when on grass

Friday, January 26, 2007

A By-The-Roman Numerals Guide To Super Bowl XLI

This sports weekend is the relative calm before next week’s storm in Miami. Football fans are bursting with anticipation for the Super Bowl XLI showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears on February IV. In the spirit of the big event, here’s a by-the-Roman numerals guide to the teams.

I Player from a losing team to be named Super Bowl MVP (Chuck Howley). Since he was a linebacker who lost to the Colts in Miami, Indy hopes Brian Urlacher wins it this time.

II Emmy Awards won by Brian’s Song. Only Brett Favre has made more Bears fans cry.

III Texas Class B state championships won by Bears coach Lovie Smith as a player for Big Sandy High School. Coincidentally, “Big Sandy” is Shaquille O’Neal’s beach volleyball nickname.

IV Jersey number worn by quarterback Jim Harbaugh for both franchises. As the new Stanford coach, it’s also how many touchdowns his opponents will score in an average quarter.

V Game of the MCMLXXXI NLCS in which Rick Monday hit a pennant-winning home run for the Dodgers. With a touchdown in the AFC championship game, Indy’s Jeff Saturday became the second day of the week to be a playoff hero.

VI Return touchdowns this season for Bears rookie Devin Hester. He’s the fastest thing in Chicago since the car chases in The Blues Brothers.

VII Games played in the MCMXCVIII NBA Eastern Conference finals - another high-profile Chicago-Indianapolis matchup. But this time, Indy seems to have the Air advantage.

VIII Consecutive seasons in which Indy’s Marvin Harrison has caught at least X touchdown passes. Among Marvins, only Gaye has done more scoring.

IX Danica Patrick’s standing in last year’s IRL IndyCar Series. Like Peyton Manning, she gets tons of endorsements and draws huge crowds in Indy, but still hasn’t won a title.

X Bears who performed “The Super Bowl Shuffle” in MCMLXXXV. Fortunately, these days you never see rappers who want to hurt people.

XI Seasons Mike Ditka spent as the Bears’ head coach. Like another Iron Mike, he won a title in MCMLXXXVI. But he preferred chewing out quarterbacks to chewing on opponents’ ears.

XII Seasons in which Baltimore lacked an NFL franchise between the Colts’ departure and Ravens’ arrival. Detroit is catching up to that number.

XIII NBA seasons in Larry Bird’s playing career. Like Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, he nailed lots of III-pointers in New England before heading to Indianapolis.

XIV Points scored by the Bears in the last V minutes of a miracle victory over Arizona. Soon, Dennis Green was what we thought he would be: unemployed.

XV Victories for each Super Bowl team this season, including the playoffs. With St. Louis winning the World Series, the Midwest has been the region of champions lately. Well, not so fast, Buckeyes.

XVI Victory margin for Florida in last year’s NCAA basketball championship game. Since Florida captured a title in Indianapolis, Indianapolis feels entitled to win one in Florida.

XVII Point spread favoring the Colts in Super Bowl III. Also the number of women in Joe Namath’s bed after the game.

XVIII Deficit overcome by the Colts in the AFC championship game. Afterwards, New England coach Bill Belichick was at a loss for words, as he is after every game.

XIX Jersey number of Colts legend Johnny Unitas, who threw a touchdown in a record XLVII consecutive games. Back then, only JFK made more passes.

XX Interceptions thrown by Bears QB Rex Grossman in the regular season. Since he had so many giveaways in Chicago, teammates started calling him Oprah.

XXI Points scored by the Colts in a MMI loss to San Francisco – an otherwise forgettable game worshipped by SportsCenter. Because it brought us Jim Mora’s “PLAYOFFS????”

XXII Career interceptions for Bears legend Dick Butkus, who probably sent someone to the hospital as I was typing this sentence.

XXIII Points for the Colts in the classic MCMLVIII NFL championship victory over the New York Giants, coached by Jim Lee Howell. Immediately after the game, an angry Giants fan launched

XXIV Categories in which Oscars were awarded for MMII. The Bears will draw inspiration from that event, since Chicago was the big winner.

XXV Record Super Bowl ring size for William “The Refrigerator” Perry. The Fridge plans to loan the ring to Bears kicker Robbie Gould, who will wear it as a helmet.

XXVI Combined points for the Bears in losses to Miami and New England – their only defeats until a meaningless season-ender to Green Bay. They’re still hoping to somehow avoid the AFC at the Super Bowl.

XXVII Career sacks for Alex Brown of the Bears. He hopes to do something considered impossible in Cleveland: a Brown winning a Super Bowl.

XXVIII Jersey number of Indy’s Marlin Jackson, who made the game-clinching interception against New England. He could be the first Marlin to win a title in Miami and not be traded for prospects.

XXIX Years since Affirmed won horse racing’s last triple crown. The ensuing period is familiar to Indy fans: a bunch of Colts falling just short of glory.

XXX Draft position in last year’s Ist round for standout Colts running back Joseph Addai. Three guys from NC State went before him. No, I don’t get it, either.

XXXI Touchdown passes for Peyton Manning during the regular season. He loves to be in the shotgun, unless Chicago’s Tank Johnson points one at him.

XXXII NFL teams to be defeated by Indy’s Tony Dungy – the first head coach to beat every team in the league. Surprisingly, the second was Tony D’Amato - Al Pacino’s character in Any Given Sunday.

XXXIII Age at which Chicago’s Gale Sayers became the youngest inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s so sad to be a has-been at such an early age.

XXXIV Jersey number of Bears legend Walter Payton. If Sweetness were alive today, he’d be dominating on Dancing With the Stars.

XXXV Yardage of late field goal that sealed Indy’s XV – VI playoff victory over the Ravens. To add insult to injury for Baltimore fans, the Colts left the stadium in Mayflower moving trucks.

XXXVI Victory margin for the Bears in Super Bowl XX. Patriots QB Tony Eason still screams Richard Dent’s name in his sleep.

XXXVII Jersey number of Bears fullback Jason McKie. He keeps teammates in stitches by telling them he played football at Temple.

XXXVIII Age of Colts receiver Ricky Proehl, the oldest player on either roster. For nostalgia’s sake, he plans to wear his old leather helmet on Super Sunday.

XXXIX Points for the Bears in the NFC Championship victory over New Orleans. One more score, and the Saints would have become the Martyrs.

XL Seasons in which George Halas was the Bears’ head coach. He lasted that long because he never had to coach T.O.

XLI Points for the Colts in the teams’ last meeting, a XLI - X rout in MMIV. Edgerrin James had CCIV yards rushing, but he’ll be less of a force this time.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Oscars Primer for Sports Fans

This morning in Beverly Hills, the nominations for the 79th annual Academy Awards were announced. Particular attention will be placed on the high-profile categories of Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress. Remarkably, every film nominated in those six categories contains a sports-related theme. A primer on each of these nominees is included as follows.

Babel: A biopic of former journeyman NFL quarterback Babe Laufenberg, i.e. “Babe L.”

Blood Diamond: George Steinbrenner stuns fans by announcing that the new Yankee Stadium will be named after former heavyweight boxer Mitch “Blood” Green.

The Departed: Terrell Owens (“The Player”) makes reference to Bill Parcells.

The Devil Wears Prada: New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur replaces his old skates with a fashionable pair of shoes.

Dreamgirls: Formerly known as the Sooners, the Oklahoma women’s basketball team gets a new nickname due to the presence of Hakeem’s daughter Abi Olajuwon.

Half Nelson: Always unconventional, Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson announces that he will only coach the second half of games.

The Last King Of Scotland: Mired in last place, the desperate Los Angeles Kings sign Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons.

Letters From Iwo Jima: In the sequel to Hoosiers, Jimmy Chitwood transfers to Iwo Jima High and letters for the basketball team.

Little Children: Plagued by injuries, the Los Angeles Dodgers call up three 12-year-olds to play for manager Grady Little.

Little Miss Sunshine: A recap of the past three football seasons for the Mississippi Rebels, in which Ole Miss has had little sunshine.

Notes On A Scandal: The diary of Barry Bonds is found and made public.

The Pursuit Of Happyness: College football programs feverishly recruit blue-chip quarterback Happy Ness.

The Queen: Continuing to mine the in-state talent pool, Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano signs New Jersey native Queen Latifah.

United 93: Manchester announces its victory total after playing David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy 93 times.

Venus: Peter O’Toole gives an uncanny performance as Venus Williams. He’ll play Serena in the sequel.

Volver: Needing a new assistant, Tennessee legend Pat Summitt hires Norm Peterson’s wife Vera, who becomes known as “Vol Vera.”

On February 25, we’ll find out who the Oscar award winners will be. They’ll have much in common with the sports world’s Robertson and de la Hoya, who are award-winning Oscars.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Conference Championship Winners, Besides the Colts & Bears

The matchup for Super Bowl XLI is set, as the Indianapolis Colts will take on the Chicago Bears. Sunday was widely noted as a landmark day for Peyton Manning and African-American coaches. Beyond the rosters of the two victorious teams, here are some other winners from the NFL conference championships.

1985 New England Patriots: With a Bears-Patriots matchup narrowly avoided, they won’t get quite as many gruesome reminders of the Super Bowl XX beatdown.

Babe Ruth: The Bambino’s spirit lives on in Adam Vinatieri: a future Hall of Famer who won three titles in New England, then torments Bostonians by helping a rival team reach new heights.

Barack Obama: Victories by Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy prove that African-American leaders in the Midwest can get the job done.

Cleveland Browns Fans: Now Baltimore has to watch a Super Bowl featuring the formerly beloved franchise that skipped town.

Dan Fouts/Warren Moon: With Manning getting past the Patriots, the “greatest quarterback not to reach the Super Bowl” competition has thinned.

FEMA: With the Saints gone, the agency won’t get two weeks of fresh reminders of how much they fouled up in New Orleans.

Hallmark: Having a guy named Lovie in the spotlight in February will provide constant reminders of Valentine’s Day.

Houston Texans: They were the last team to beat Indy. So for the first time, the NFC champ hopes to be like the Texans.

Jim O’Brien: We’ll hear all about the former Baltimore kicker, who made the game-winner in the Colts’ last Super Bowl. No, not the guy who coached hoops at Ohio State, or the other one who coached the Sixers and Celtics, or the Philly weatherman who died while skydiving, or… okay, just forget it.

Non-Sports Fans: Super Bowl parties always include guests who know nothing about the teams but love to watch the commercials. With Peyton in the game, at least they’ll recognize one player.

Saturday Night Live: A new Da Bears sketch just has to be on the way. To keep up with the times, the Superfans will converse with each other in an online chat.

SEC Quarterbacks: Tennessee’s Peyton Manning and Florida’s Rex Grossman defeated Tom Brady and Drew Brees from Big Ten schools. Looks like Chris Leak started a trend.

Stephen Colbert Haters: It was a rough day for the Colbert Report host, who denounces Bears while celebrating Saints and Patriots. Expect the Colts to be on notice.

Sweetness: No offense to Sean Payton, but it would have disrespected Walter’s memory for a Payton to keep the Bears out of the Super Bowl.

Terrell Owens: A big day by Dallas Clark helped Indy to advance. So the critics were wrong when they said, “As long as T.O. is with the Cowboys, Dallas won’t reach the Super Bowl.”

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bilas To Receive Police Protection In Chapel Hill

This Saturday, ESPN’s College GameDay crew will be in Chapel Hill for the North Carolina – Georgia Tech matchup. Hordes of Carolina blue-clad fans will be seen behind Rece Davis and company during their analyses. Some other men in blue will also be on hand in the Dean Smith Center. Analyst Jay Bilas will receive police protection during his visit to Chapel Hill.

As documented in a GameDay commercial, Bilas was the target of constant harassment during his last trip to UNC. A cafeteria worker flatly refused to serve him chocolate pudding. The employee, a huge Pink Floyd fan, later remarked, “If you played for Coach K, you can’t have any pudding!!! How can you have any pudding if you played for Coach K???” The former Duke hoopster was also abused while trying to eat his meal, being hit by backpacks and having his chair rammed repeatedly. Reportedly, each time a UNC student made contact with Bilas, Shane Battier instinctively flopped to the ground in Houston.

Those were just the attacks that were captured on camera. Bilas suffered numerous other indignities around Chapel Hill. While he tried to enjoy a beer at He’s Not Here, customers around Bilas dumped blue cups of Natural Light on his head. On campus, one man repeatedly screamed at him that he was going to hell. However, that was just the infamous Pit Preacher, who said the same thing to everyone.

Later Bilas was found tied up to UNC’s enduring symbol, the Old Well. A note was attached to him with the words “In Hubert We Trust.” He told authorities that he hadn’t been tortured like that since the last time he watched a Duke football game. Reached for comment, GameDay analyst and former Tar Heel guard Hubert Davis remarked with a grin, “I don’t know how that happened to Duke Boy.” Asked for his thoughts on the incidents, ESPN commentator Dick Vitale responded, “Duke Duke Duke Coach K Cameron Crazies, Baby!!!!!!” He gave the same response later when asked about the Iraq war.

Bilas joined former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps as a GameDay analyst to be targeted by overzealous fans. In February 2005, the crew was in Syracuse for a Big East showdown between the Orange and the Fighting Irish. Someone broke into Digger’s hotel room, stealing all his highlighters and replacing them with highlighters that did not match his ties. The culprit also covered the room with photos of Danny Ainge in a BYU uniform. The primary suspect wears glasses and has a receding hairline, and he has reportedly been seen roaming the sidelines at the Carrier Dome.

To make Saturday’s trip to Chapel Hill less eventful, ESPN decided that an extra police presence would be needed. The officers assigned to protect Bilas were carefully selected and are considered sympathetic to him in the hostile environment. Officer Redick is considered the top marksman on the force, although some claim that his shooting is wildly off-target in crucial situations. He will be accompanied by Officer Wojo, who responds to threatening situations by emphatically slapping the floor.

As for the game, the fourth-ranked Tar Heels enter the contest with the Yellow Jackets after a 77-55 rout over Clemson. The home loss was a major disappointment for the 16th-ranked Tigers. But at least Clemson, 0-52 lifetime at UNC, was spared a trip to Chapel Hill this season. Jay Bilas was not so lucky.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Virginia Tech Adds Charlotte Bobcats To Schedule

Monday was a landmark day for the Virginia Tech basketball program, as the Hokies entered the Top 25 for the first time in over a decade. Today, coach Seth Greenberg announced that his team will take another step up in class. The Hokies have agreed to a February 6 matchup with the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats.

The extra game is part of the program’s effort to add more teams from North Carolina to the schedule. Virginia Tech is 6-0 against schools from the Tar Heel State after Saturday’s 94-88 victory over then-#1 North Carolina. Zabian Dowdell scored 23 in making sure that the Tar Heels’ stay atop the polls would only last one week. Some considered the upset inevitable, as the college sports gods seem to want Florida to be on top of everything these days. As further proof of that, David Beckham has reneged on his agreement with the Los Angeles Galaxy to suit up for the Gator soccer team.

The Hokies were far more popular in Chapel Hill a week earlier, when they knocked off then-#5 Duke 69-67 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The game plan worked to perfection, as the Virginia Tech guards consistently got open to receive passes from Duke’s Greg Paulus. The other victim in Tech’s 3-0 ACC start was Wake Forest, to go with non-conference wins over Appalachian State, Campbell, and UNC-Greensboro. The Hokies still face a return showdown at UNC, plus two matchups with NC State. In the meantime, North Carolina governor Mike Easley has already labeled Greenberg as an enemy of the state.

Virginia Tech’s perfection against the North Carolina schools continues a less-surprising pattern established in the fall by the football team. Frank Beamer’s squad was 3-0 against the state, highlighted by a 27-6 blowout of ACC champion Wake Forest. The Hokies routed UNC and Duke by a combined 71-10. According to Beamer, the key to those victories was “scheduling UNC and Duke in football.”

While the basketball team is proud of its upsets of Carolina and Duke, it has been maddeningly inconsistent against programs from outside NC. Most puzzling were losses to Western Michigan and Marshall. However, the Thanksgiving defeat to WMU was understandable upon further reflection. Hokies are turkey-like birds, so the players were likely distracted by the fear of being roasted and eaten by dysfunctional families. The loss to the Thundering Herd resulted because it came a week after the release of We Are Marshall. The inspirational tale tanked at the box office, so Greenberg wanted to do what he could to lift the spirits of Huntington, West Virginia.

The February 6 contest at Charlotte Bobcats Arena was added after a review of both teams’ schedules. Virginia Tech had a week off between a February 3 visit to Boston College and a February 10 home matchup with Virginia. The Bobcats face a game in Miami on the 5th and may be weary after taking on Dwyane Wade and the defending champs. However, they can fully rest on the 7th, as they play Philadelphia.

The Bobcats were eager to face the Hokies because its players have experienced great success against college competition. At 12-24, Charlotte is currently last in the Southeast Division. However, five current Bobcats (Raymond Felton, Sean May, Emeka Okafor, Jake Voskuhl, and Derek Anderson) won NCAA championships. Even a great college team can’t compare to the rigorous competition of the NBA, so those players are heavily favored to experience that winning feeling on February 6. However, the Hokies do have one major reason for optimism. The last time Adam Morrison played against college guys, he ended the game in tears.

In the meantime, next on Virginia Tech’s schedule is Wednesday’s trip to Florida State. In preparation, Greenberg has devised a brilliant strategy for his team. He’s convinced them that Tallahassee is a suburb of Raleigh.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Number 15: Lucky For Colts, Unlucky For Eagles

The number 15 is quite prominent in the world of football. It’s how many minutes are in a quarter, as well as the number of yards a team is penalized for a personal foul. In Saturday’s NFL playoff action, the number 15 was significant in many other ways. It brought victory to the Indianapolis Colts and elimination for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Most significantly for the Colts, 15 was the number of points they scored in a 15-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens. All those points came thanks to the leg of Adam Vinatieri, whose five field goals gave him a total of eight in Indy’s two playoff victories. Only Reggie Miller has nailed more post-season three-pointers for an Indianapolis team. Coincidentally, Vinatieri celebrated each of his kicks by talking trash to Spike Lee.

The Indianapolis offense had 15 first downs for the game. That’s two more than the Ravens managed against the much-maligned Colts’ defense (NOTE: All writers are required to refer to the Colts’ defense as “much-maligned”). The return of safety Bob Sanders has been instrumental in the unit’s sudden improvement. He has a history of bringing power to a previously woeful group, having also been responsible for giving the Democrats control of Congress.

While Vinatieri and the defense carried the day, quarterback Peyton Manning was well below his standards with 15 completions. However, Peyton will take the result as the Colts earned a rare road playoff victory and moved within one game of their first Super Bowl appearance since moving to Indy. If the Colts win next week and advance to the big game, Manning will finally get a shot at some endorsement opportunities.

15 was enough for one quarterback, but Jeff Garcia’s 15 completions could not extend Philadelphia’s season. The Eagles fell 27-24 to the sentimental favorite New Orleans Saints. Garcia filled in admirably after Donovan McNabb’s season-ending injury in November. Including last weekend’s elimination of the New York Giants, Garcia had won six starts in a row. The run amazed golf fans, who did not believe that a Garcia could win on Sundays. The QB also provided inspiration to the 76ers and Flyers, who these days can only dream of winning six games in a six-week period.

Ultimately, Garcia’s team was doomed by allowing 15 rushing first downs to the Saints. Deuce McAllister ran for 143 yards and a touchdown. He also scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown on an 11-yard reception late in the third quarter. In leading the victory, McAllister gave the greatest running performance by a Saint since John the Baptist broke the four-minute mile.

The number 15 also hurt the Eagles in two punting situations. Late in the first half, Philly had a clear path to a blocked punt, when Saints punter Steve Weatherford stepped aside and ran 15 yards for a first down. More crucially, the Eagles chose to punt on 4th-and-15 with under two minutes remaining in the game and never regained possession. Coach Andy Reid’s decision not to go for it is sure to face widespread second-guessing. Fortunately, he coaches in Philly, where the always-upbeat media will focus on his five division titles and reassure him, “Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all, Andy. We still think you’re swell!”

Indeed, 15 was an unlucky number for the Eagles in the Louisiana Superdome. On one previous occasion, the franchise had experienced a bitter playoff loss in that venue. It was a 27-10 defeat to the Oakland Raiders - in Super Bowl XV.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The British Invasion: 2007 Sports Edition

Yesterday it was announced that British soccer icon David Beckham has agreed to terms to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer. It remains to be seen whether the husband of Posh Spice will make the world’s most popular sport more trendy in the United States. But the arrival of “Becks” does suggest that other British celebrities could make a positive impact on the American sports scene. Here are just a few other Brits, and the positions where they could have a major effect on U.S. sports.

Julie Andrews: San Francisco Giants Outfielder. As Barry Bonds’s teammate, she can go from Mary Poppins to pill-popping.

Christian Bale: Tampa Bay Devil Rays Designated Hitter. No team is more in need of a Bat Man.

Tony Blair: Monday Night Football commentator. Mike Tirico and Joe Theismann are used to working with a heavily-criticized Tony.

David Bowie: Chairman, NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee. He can officially tell us, “Let’s Dance.”

Richard Branson: Oakland Raiders Offensive Coordinator. He presides over the Virgin empire, so he can lead a bunch of guys who can’t score.

John Cleese: U.S. Ryder Cup Captain. In defeat, the Monty Python staple can help another Monty.

Sean Connery: Denver Broncos Quarterback. No one can fill John Elway’s shoes as #7, except for the ultimate 007.

Judi Dench: Notre Dame Quarterback. After Brady Quinn leaves, an award-winner from Notre Dame is replaced by an award-winning Dame.

Craig Ferguson: University of Hawaii Football Coach. With the Warriors’ high-powered offense, he can continue to entertain late-night viewers.

Ricky Gervais: New York Yankees Owner. David Brent replaces an even more obnoxious Boss.

Hugh Grant: Orlando Magic Forward. The star of Notting Hill can step in for a rotting Hill.

Elton John: Houston Rockets Center. With Yao Ming out of commission for a while, Houston needs another Rocket Man.

Keira Knightley: Pittsburgh Pirates Manager. She’s used to bringing glamour to a misfit group of Pirates.

Hugh Laurie: Chicago Bears Quarterback. The House star always seems to make the right decision, unlike Rex Grossman. And the Bears offensive line could yell, “We must protect this House!”

Jude Law: Baltimore Ravens Cornerback. Any team that faces Peyton Manning should have a defensive back named Law.

Ewan McGregor: Los Angeles Lakers Coach. This franchise thrived on Star Wars.

Paul McCartney: Philadelphia 76ers Forward. They just got rid of Chris Webber, the leader of the Fab 5. So the Fab 4 leader is next.

Ian McKellen: University of Cincinnati Basketball Coach. The Bearcats are bitter rivals with Xavier, so they could use Magneto as they take on the X-Men.

Ozzy Osbourne: Chicago Cubs Manager. To win a World Series in Chicago, you need an incoherent manager named Ozzy.

Clive Owen: Atlanta Braves Pitcher. With star closers hard to find, the bullpen-deficient Braves grab the star of Closer.

Queen Elizabeth II: Sacramento Kings Forward. Shaquille O’Neal referred to them as the “Queens.” Wouldn’t you love to see her around Ron Artest?

Daniel Radcliffe: St. Louis Cardinals Shortstop. Radcliffe plays Harry Potter, and St. Louis fans love seeing a Wizard at shortstop.

Ridley Scott: Chicago Black Hawks Coach. Scott directed Black Hawk Down, so he can lead some Black Hawks who have been down for years.

Patrick Stewart: Detroit Red Wings Center. Having lost “The Captain” (Steve Yzerman) to retirement, Detroit turns to Captain Picard.

Catherine Zeta-Jones: New York Mets Utility Player. She’s used to being around a much older man, so she’ll have no problem being in a dugout with Julio Franco.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ohio State To Stop Playing Sports Versus Florida

Monday night in Arizona, Florida routed Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS national championship game. With the Buckeyes having been #1 all season, the result was stunning to most college football observers. However, the lopsided affair continued a pattern of futility for Ohio State athletics against the Gators. Therefore, OSU director of athletics Gene Smith has announced that the school’s teams will no longer compete against the University of Florida.

Many prognosticators expected the Buckeyes to dominate the Gators for 60 minutes on Monday. Instead, they dominated for 16 seconds. Ted Ginn, Jr. returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and then supposedly left the game with an injury. Actually, Ginn was simply following the philosophy of George Costanza – always leave on a high note. Quarterback Troy Smith was definitely left wanting more – more protection, more yardage, more completions, etc. Known for his stellar play in big games, the Heisman winner played more like Anna Nicole Smith with just four completions for 35 yards. Coach Jim Tressel desperately tried to jump-start the offense, but he could not find a hypnotist to convince Smith that he was playing against Michigan.

Lining up with Florida proved to be far more problematic than the Wolverines. Ohio State had feasted against bowl competition in Arizona, defeating Miami, Kansas State, and Notre Dame over the past four seasons. Of course, that assumes the phrase “bowl competition” can still be used for the Fighting Irish. The Buckeye football program has struggled against the entire SEC, with a 0-8 record against the conference in bowl games. The SEC is looking particularly strong now, as Florida’s Urban Meyer is the conference’s fourth active national championship head coach. He joins Steve Spurrier, Phillip Fullmer, and Nick Saban, unless Saban bolts for another job before I finish this article.

Last night was Ohio State’s second athletic debacle against UF in the past month. The basketball team experienced similar futility on December 23. With the injured Greg Oden back on the court, the third-ranked Buckeyes were confident as they headed to Gainesville to take on another group of national champion Gators. Florida responded with an 86-60 trouncing, as Oden struggled with foul trouble and was outplayed by Al Horford. Taurean Green led a 33-9 second half run that put the Gators in cruise control. Florida coach Billy Donovan spent the last ten minutes drinking egg nog and singing Christmas carols to his assistants.

Perhaps the Buckeyes had foresight of such a result last March. Second-seeded OSU fell to Georgetown 70-52 in the second round of the NCAA tournament. If Thad Matta’s crew had won that contest, Florida would have awaited in the Sweet 16. Most recaps claimed that the Hoyas’ stifling defense had ended the Buckeyes’ season. However, with the specter of the Gators looming, the real culprit was probably herpetophobia – fear of reptiles.

For good measure, last February the UF baseball team trounced Ohio State 10-3. Reflecting on the pattern of blowout losses to the Gators, Gene Smith decided that he’d had enough and put the no-Florida policy into effect. “That school has brought our athletic program nothing but pain recently, and it’s time to put a stop to it,” said the AD. “We’d probably lose to them in women’s hockey – we’re ninth in the country and they don’t even have a team,” he continued. “Seriously, they’d just put a few sorority girls on the ice, and they’d be smacking slapshots into our goal!”

The OSU men’s golf team will still honor its prior commitment to participate in the Gator Invitational in Gainesville next month. The program of Jack Nicklaus is bound to be a bunch of hackers that weekend, but Gene Smith does see a silver lining. He noted, “Sure, being in Gainesville will have our guys shooting way over par. But that means they’ll be tearing up their course and leaving divots all over the place!” The comment brought a fit of laughter, which soon deteriorated into weeping.

Otherwise, the faithful in Columbus will no longer have to worry about the Gators. After last night’s dominance by Chris Leak and his mates, the debate over whether Florida belonged in the BCS championship game seems like a distant memory. Last month, Michigan insisted that they should have gotten that berth. Today, for once, the Buckeyes agree with their arch-rivals.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lost Weekend For Jets & Giants Coaches - Past & Present

On Sunday, for just the second time in NFL history, the New York Jets and New York Giants competed in playoff games on the same day. The results were not pretty, as both teams went down to defeat. Former leaders of those teams experienced similar disappointments on Saturday. If you’ve ever been the head coach of the Jets or the Giants, this wild card weekend was brutal.

The Jets fell 37-16 against the New England Patriots, as coach Eric Mangini lost to his mentor, Bill Belichick. Mangini has been labeled as “Mangenius” for leading a team with low expectations into the postseason. However, if he were really a genius, he would have found a way to move the game out of Foxboro and get Tom Brady on his side. Besides, being a genius doesn’t necessarily help in the NFL, as shown by Stephen Hawking’s disastrous season as coach of the Cleveland Browns. Belichick imparted another lesson to his pupil – the sort of “lesson” an angry nun delivers with a stick.

Unlike Mangini, Giants coach Tom Coughlin has been anything but a media darling in New York. His job status is in serious jeopardy after a 23-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. David Akers won the game with a 38-yard field goal on the final play. Coughlin argued, to no avail, that the kick should not have counted because it was not at least five minutes early. One Giant who will definitely leave is Tiki Barber, who rushed for 137 yards in his final game. Upon his retirement, many Eagles wished him well and told him that brother Ronde would also look great in a TV studio. No twins have caused more havoc in Philly, except when the Bush daughters spent a Saturday night on South Street.

Saturday was a day for the former Jets and Giants coaches to suffer. A year after departing the Jets, Kansas City Chiefs coach Herman Edwards watched his season end with a 23-8 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts and good friend Tony Dungy. The game featured the first-ever use of the sentence: “Peyton Manning was bailed out by the Colts’ defense.” Indy was given little chance to stop Chief running stud Larry Johnson, but Kansas City only managed 126 total net yards. Edwards is known for uttering, “You play to win the game!” Saturday he was heard pleading, “You pray to move the chains!”

The Dallas Cowboys had the odds doubly stacked against them Saturday night, since coach Bill Parcells had previously guided both the Jets and the Giants. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the Cowboys’ 21-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks was particularly gut-wrenching. What is shocking is that a Dallas player other than Terrell Owens has been besieged by ridicule. Quarterback Tony Romo will never forget his botched hold on the go-ahead chip shot field goal attempt. On the bright side, the experience of dropping the ball should help him to relate to his receivers. It should also be noted that Drew Bledsoe would not have been nearly so mobile after bungling the winning field goal.

The weekend was even harsh for former Jets and Giants coaches who weren’t on the sidelines. The Baltimore Ravens had a bye, reminding Jim Fassel that they were much better off after firing him as offensive coordinator. Also, Ray Handley and Rich Kotite encountered many unruly customers while working as Wal-Mart greeters.

The bad luck only seemed to apply to those who coached the Jets or Giants in games. Therefore, although Belichick was technically the Jets’ head coach for one day in the 2000 off-season, he was immune. Lucky for him, his one day in charge of the Jets wasn’t this weekend.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cowher's Replacement: Some Not-So-Obvious Choices

Friday represented the end of an era for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as Bill Cowher resigned after 15 seasons as head coach. Much of the early speculation about his successor has centered on Pittsburgh assistants Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm. However, many other less obvious candidates would make sense for the Steelers. Here is a rundown.

Peter Angelos: As the Orioles’ owner, he knows how to keep a Baltimore team from winning.

Bobby Bowden: Cowher was preceded by a Noll, so why not succeed him with a Nole?

Larry Brown: He’s already coached a Big Ben to a championship.

Al Bundy: He loves to relive his football glory days, and there’s no chance that he’ll quit to spend more time with his family.

Kim Cattrall: She encourages men to get physical, and she’s worked with a star named Parker.

Bill Clinton: He’s another “Bill C” who was chosen for a high-profile job in 1992.

Simon Cowell: The Terrible Towel would fit in well with the Unbearable Cowell.

Leonardo DiCaprio: As Cowher did as an assistant for Marty Schottenheimer, Leo often works with a Marty who seeks an elusive trophy.

John Edwards: Like Cowher, he’s an NC State alumnus who knows that winning in Ohio is crucial.

Jeff Fisher: You can never have enough references to The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.

Mario Lemieux: He’s brought championships to Pittsburgh, and he’s all about being Super.

Craig T. Nelson: After coaching high school football in the 80s (All the Right Moves) and college football in the 90s (Coach), he’s due for an NFL job.

Conan O’Brien: He’s already planning to take over for a guy called “The Chin” – why wait until 2009?

Nick Saban: He’s been at Alabama for a few days now, so he’s ready to move on.

Martha Stewart: As a home decorating guru, she could do wonders with a Steel Curtain.

Lynn Swann: He’s available after losing the Pennsylvania governor election. In western PA, this job is far more important anyway.

Jim Tressel: Just as Cowher thrived with The Bus, Tressel does his best work around a Carr.

Mike Vanderjagt: He‘s proven that he can help the Steelers win in the playoffs.

Mike Wallace: 60 Minutes gave him experience in working with an old-timer named Rooney.

Charlie Weis: He’s won in Heinz Field with the Patriots and Notre Dame. And he needs to leave the Fighting Irish to have a chance of winning a Bowl.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Some BS About Boise State

After a Breathtaking Stunner on Monday, Boise State is the Biggest Story of the Bowl Season thus far. They don’t have future Hall of Famers like Bart Starr, Bruce Smith, and Barry Sanders. Or a coaching legend like Bo Schembechler. But Chris Petersen has had Boundless Success after Dan Hawkins left to be the Buffaloes’ Savior.

As always, visiting teams had Befuddling Saturdays on the Blue Surface at Bronco Stadium. Belittling Skeptics questioned the supposedly Bogus Schedule, but Boise State put a Beaver Slaughter on Oregon State and withstood Brennan’s Stats against Hawaii. Although undefeated, they had to take a Back Seat to the Buckeye Stalwarts.

They got invited to the Bright Stage in Arizona, but they were clear underdogs versus the school of Barry Switzer, Billy Sims, and Boomer Sooner. Oklahoma had a championship coach in Bob Stoops, plus the Big XII Superiority over the WAC. Unlike horse racing, where Bill Shoemaker won five Belmont Stakes, football isn’t for the little guy.

But underdogs can Bring Surprises. Brewer Starter Ben Sheets beat Cuba in the 2000 Olympics. France knocked off the Brazil Soccer powerhouse at the World Cup. And Vince Vaughn’s team stunned Ben Stiller in Dodgeball. For 58 minutes on Monday, the Beaming Scoreboard favored the Believing Scrappers from Idaho.

Then a Bewitching Sequence suddenly left them Behind Seven. The tying touchdown and two-pointer were Bitter Setbacks, but the go-ahead score, on a Ball Snatched by a defensive back, was an absolute Body Slam. As in the Bedlam Series, Oklahoma appeared to be the Blessed Side.

But Jared Zabransky did not have a Broken Spirit, and he refused to be the remembered as the Blundering Scapegoat. He executed Petersen’s Bold Strategy to perfection, as Oklahoma’s Bamboozled Secondary was fooled by the hook-and-ladder. Like Sunday’s Bengals-Steelers game, this one was headed to overtime.

A Blazing Streak by Adrian Peterson seemed to re-establish OU as the Better, Stronger team. But another trick play Brought Six for the Broncos. Instead of Being Safe, they went for the win. The Beautiful Statue of Liberty play caused a Blissful Scene, as Brilliant Sophomore Ian Johnson ran to victory. Soon he was a Betrothed Superstar, as his Blushing Sweetheart accepted his marriage proposal in front of thousands of Breathless Supporters. Let’s hope they don’t take marital advice from Britney Spears.

Even the makers of Bad Santa had to be uplifted. Bud Selig can only wish that the World Series provided such drama. Perhaps Brees’s Saints can bring similar exhilaration this month. In the meantime, Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” will play on in Idaho.

But that’s all I’ll say about Boise State. By now, you’ve had enough of my BS.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Bobby & Other Knights

With Texas Tech’s 70-68 win over New Mexico, Bobby Knight earned his record-breaking 880th victory to pass Dean Smith on the all-time college basketball list. In honor of the occasion, here is how many other prominent Knights relate to The General.

Christopher Knight: As Peter Brady, he tossed a football that made Marcia’s nose look grotesque. Lucky for her, he didn’t throw a chair.

Wayne Knight: Bobby was teammates with Jerry Lucas on Ohio State’s 1960 national champions. As Newman on Seinfeld, Wayne was also overshadowed by a Jerry.

Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur’s men would admire Bobby for finding the Holy Grail in 1976, 1981, and 1987. But they couldn’t sell him on that “chivalry” concept.

Phil Knight: The former CEO made Nike a hugely popular brand. In Indiana, firing Coach Knight made Myles a hugely unpopular Brand.

Jedi Knight: Like Anakin Skywalker, Bobby often goes to the dark side. But unlike Darth Vader, he got his son to join him.

Ray Knight: Bobby won a title in ’76 thanks to Quinn Buckner. Ray won in ’86 thanks to Bill Buckner.

A Knight’s Tale: Coach Knight has always emphasized strong man-to-man defense. A Knight’s Tale starred Heath Ledger, who did the man-to-man thing in Brokeback Mountain.

Reading Red Knights: Just giving some love to my old high school.

Knights Who Say “Ni”: The Monty Python characters had a habit of uttering nonsense. Bobby coached Isiah Thomas, who never makes sense these days.

Sammy Knight: 116 of Bobby’s victories have come with the Red Raiders. As a Kansas City Chiefs safety, Sammy can thank the Raiders for two wins every year.

Eric Knight: He was a writer who created the character of Lassie. Bobby treats writers like dogs.

Michael Knight: The main character in Knight Rider (besides KITT) was played by David Hasselhoff, whose singing inspires Dirk Nowitzki. So like Coach Knight, he leads hoopsters to victory in Texas.

T.R. Knight: He’s in the cast of Grey’s Anatomy. Like Bobby with his players, the doctors can’t keep their hands off each other.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Last Thursday, Bobby failed in his first attempt to pass Dean Smith. That same evening, the Scarlet Knights were crushed in the Dean Smith Center.

Jordan Knight: He was a member of New Kids On The Block, which formed in 1984 and claimed many gold records. Another Jordan/Knight group formed in 1984 and earned gold medals.

The Dark Knight: The next Batman film will once again star Christian Bale. Police in Puerto Rico refer to Bobby as American Psycho.

Suge Knight: Like the Death Row Records mogul, Bobby’s had no shortage of feuds. But he doesn’t shoot his rivals – only his hunting partners.

Ted Knight: He starred in Caddyshack, in which a gopher caused havoc on the golf course. At Indiana, Bobby seldom had problems with the Gophers.

Gladys Knight: She and the Pips are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while Coach Knight is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Inductees to either Hall receive free breadsticks for life at Pizza Hut.

The Knights of Prosperity: The new ABC comedy is about a plan to rob Mick Jagger. Like Bobby, Mick still works in large arenas in his 60s.