Sunday, May 06, 2007

Howards' End

The legendary Howard Cosell was known for “telling it like it is.” If he were alive today, Cosell would have some harsh words regarding his namesakes in the American sports world. Right now, it’s a tough time to be a Howard.

That statement has been particularly true in the NBA playoffs. The first team eliminated was the Orlando Magic, led by Dwight Howard. Orlando was given little chance against the top-seeded Detroit Pistons, but Magic fans had to be disappointed in getting swept. While Howard provides hope for the future, the franchise has not won a playoff series since Shaquille O’Neal left for Los Angeles in 1996. Besides Shaq’s departure, the drought most likely resulted because God is punishing Orlando for pushing boy bands onto the world.

Apparently, the secret to victory by a #8 seed was to have a Howard in the opponent’s starting lineup. Even with Josh Howard averaging over 20 points, the Dallas Mavericks were stunned by the Golden State Warriors in six games. On the bright side for Howard, the name most associated with this loss was a bit more German-sounding. Although he will almost certainly win the MVP award, Dirk Nowitzki will face ongoing “can’t win the big one” scrutiny. After his 2-for-13 performance in Game 6, MVP stands for “Making Vacation Plans.”

The Mavericks weren’t the only Texas team to be undone by the Howard affliction. Despite playing at home for game 7, the Houston Rockets fell 103-99 to the Utah Jazz, ending the season of Juwan Howard. The headlines are about Tracy McGrady’s playoff defeats, but Juwan’s demise means a clean sweep of the NBA Howards. League officials are fortunate that David Stern is in charge, rather than Howard Stern.

The Howard effect is not limited to the basketball court. 2006 National League MVP Ryan Howard is currently batting .198 as his Philadelphia Phillies head into tonight’s series-ender with the San Francisco Giants. Last year he slugged 58 home runs, but now he’s living below the Mendoza Line. His cold stretch has led to something unbelievable in San Francisco this weekend. He’s a huge, left-handed home run champ, but no one thinks he’s on steroids.

Considering the struggles of Howards, you might think the Detroit Red Wings tempted fate by recalling goaltender Jimmy Howard on Thursday. However, the Red Wings already have future Hall of Famer Dominik Hašek in net, backed up by Chris Osgood. Hašek is a two-time Hart Trophy winner as the league MVP. Still, he has never been more valuable than he is now, because his presence keeps a Howard out of action.

NFL teams surely have taken note of the Howard effect. In last week’s draft, not one player named Howard was chosen throughout the seven rounds. Even Green Bay was scared, despite capturing Super Bowl XXXI thanks to Desmond Howard. Additionally, just to be safe, no team drafted a player from Howard University. If Brady Quinn had been named Brady Howard, he might still be sitting in Radio City Music Hall.

The Howard struggles do not seem to be in effect outside the American sports world. Goaltender Tim Howard was victorious Saturday, as his Everton club defeated Portsmouth 3-0 in an important English Premier League match. Also, Spider-Man 3 is on its way to a runaway box office triumph, despite the presence of Bryce Dallas Howard. In addition to nullifying the Howard effect, the film provides the weekend’s only opportunity to put “triumph” and “Dallas” in the same sentence.

As for the Howards in American sports, perhaps Ryan can soon turn things around. As another Howard (Jones) once sang, “Things can only get better.” If they don’t soon, Ryan Howard may echo Network character Howard Beale: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”