Thursday, February 26, 2015

Life Lesson from Sports....and my Dad

I love being a parent. It's so much fun to experience life on this end now as opposed to when I was a kid. Recently, two instances brought back good memories of my Dad.

For those of you that don't know, my father passed away in 1996. I was 27 and he had been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. The bigger problem was that a few months earlier he had broken a bone in his foot and got up on it too quickly. He had blood clot issues which caused him to go on blood thinners. He was still on the medication when he received the news about the aneurysm. He needed to wait for this blood viscosity to get back to normal before he could have the surgery. Luckily, he made it to the surgery. It went well. He was recuperating in the hospital without any issues. Six days after his brain surgery he was being helped to the bathroom when he dropped dead. Bill Crull was killed instantly by two pulmonary embolisms and an arterial embolism in his heart. He was 51. 

Back to my point, I signed my littlest son up for Little League this last week. This was the time of the year growing up that was the most difficult for me to endure. I was ALWAYS ready for baseball season. Knowing that the winter was ending, spring was coming, and baseball was starting left me giddy with hope. I wish both my sons played ball now. My oldest just hasn't shown the interest and I allow him to be his own young man, it's just hard for me to understand why you wouldn't play baseball. I would bug my Dad to death about sign ups for Little League. Deep down, I'm sure he loved it, but I would drive him crazy about it because I loved it so much. I was also one of the very few players who enjoyed having my dad as the coach. He always seemed to know me better than I knew myself and he encouraged  me in that way so that I would realize those skills. The ONLY thing I wouldn't do that he wanted me to was steal home with a right-handed hitter at the plate. I could never trust my teammates to read the sign correctly when a misinterpretation meant a baseball bat upside my head. I miss those times.

The second memory from this week was one of the best lessons I've ever learned in life from my Dad. Every year our Little League (Rome Little League in Rome, IL) held a post season awards ceremony. Each of the teams from the different leagues would gather and each league/team would present awards in front of everyone else. Each team, regardless of league, gave out three trophies - MVP, Batting Average and Sportsmanship. The 12 year old players had an overall best player trophy called the Gotch Award, named after a young man who played in our league but died tragically in a fire at 12. The 13 year old players had an overall best player trophy called the Stoecker Award named after a major sponsor of our Little League. Now, I fancied myself as a good ball player. Yes, I was an All-Star every year but I never imagined myself (in reality, I dreamed about it though) winning one of the two big awards. For me, it was all about the MVP. Batting average can come down to one AB so that didn't bother me much, but to be deemed the Most Valuable Player on your team was the highest honor you could receive. You were the best. And isn't that what every aspiring Cubs center-fielder (my dream as a kid) hopes for?

Well, I never won it. And by the time I reached 13 I'd had enough. Oh, I didn't go award-less. Nearly every year I won the Sportsmanship trophy for my team. While I loved being a great teammate and playing the game the right way, I just wanted the approval that I was good. So here I am as a 13 year old and the evening awards ceremony is over, I've just won the Sportsmanship trophy again and we're headed to the van. I'm steaming because I felt like I had a great year and was deserving of the MVP award. It was just me, my Dad and my brother and I got to ride in the front seat on the way home.

** side note - isn't it great the things we manage to create when we have siblings? Heaven forbid one sibling get to ride in the front seat on the way to a destination and I don't get a chance on the way back? And I had an older brother and two  younger sisters, so it was always a discussion, for lack of a better term. :) **

As we got into the van I took the trophy and threw it down between the two front seats and proceeded to exclaim to anyone who could hear me, "I'm sick of winning this stupid trophy. I want to be recognized as the best player on the team" (Yes, it's been a few years but I feel like it's OK to  use artistic license on my own words). The look on  my Dad's face sent shivers through my spine. It wasn't a look of anger or trepidation but one of disappointment. And not the "I can't believe you screwed up and I'm disappointed in your actions" look, but one that sent him into uber-father mode. He looked at me and said, in so many words, "Son, I could not be any prouder of you right now. To me, that award is the most important award you can win. It shows that we've taught you to be a great person, which is much better than being a great ballplayer."

At that moment, I was both mortified that I had done what I'd done with that trophy and yet ecstatic that I made my father proud. I picked my trophy up, dusted it off, and held on to it with great zeal. I took it home and set it up with all of my other sportsmanship trophies and displayed them proudly. My father taught me that how you play is more important that how well you play. Always be above reproach on the field of play. I'm glad I made him proud.

I hope I can pass the same lesson on to my sons....

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Musings

It is that time of the week again, and MAN it was a full weekend. So let’s get after it!

  • For the second week in a row I will start with a non-sports take. The Oscars were held last night in Hollywood and while I never watch the ceremonies closely (I’ll get to that in a minute), I do like to predict the major 6 award winners – Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. Most years I put in some research, look at trends, follow the Golden Globes and make my picks. And most every year I get five out of six correct. There’s always that one award that goes against the grain and snags me every time. This year, my research was non-existent and it showed in my picks. I couldn’t decide on the three close categories – Director, Picture and Actor. I assumed that Director and Picture would be tied together as they usually are and it came down to “Birdman” or “Boyhood”. As far as Best Actor went it would come down to the two Golden Globe winners, Michael Keaton for “Birdman” or Eddie Redmayne for “The Theory of Everything”. My thought processes was that Richard Linklater would be rewarded for his innovation and receive the Academy Award for Picture and Director. At the same time, I thought that “Birdman” wouldn’t get shut out and that Keaton would win for Best Actor. Wrong on both accounts. I wish I understood the premise of having an Awards show that only gives out two major awards within the first two hours! Living in the Eastern Time zone it’s almost midnight before the good awards are presented. I’m an old man and can’t stay up that late. Fix it!
  • All the planets have aligned and we are finally getting the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight in May. Yawn. It’s two years too late. I recognize that the fight will still draw a mass of pay-per-view buys and that’s really what this fight is all about anyway. But fans wanted to see these two fight at their apex and that moment has passed us by. It is a shame that they got caught up in minutiae and robbed us of them at their peak. I won’t watch.
  • Another big story this week was the B1G conference stating they were “considering” a proposal that would force incoming freshmen to redshirt in order to adjust to college life. This reeks of hypocrisy on so many levels. First and foremost, these are the same conferences who have added member schools to make them larger in order to have a conference championship in football…which makes them MORE money. Second, this also allows the conferences to secure TV funding for a conference specific station….which makes them MORE money. And now you’re going to tell me that you care about the student-athlete enough to force them to sit out a year? Idiocy. Kids get it now. They understand that college athletics is their minor leagues and realize that if the schools are going to exploit them for money making initiatives then the students will turn around and use the schools to help them get to the professional levels. It’s ridiculous. And we haven’t even mentioned that this initiative would have to be across the board for every conference. At the same time, college basketball would suffer because I don’t see the NBA changing the “must go to college for one year” rule. That is completely incompatible with this proposal. Stop insulting our intelligence.
  • The NFL combine is taking place in my hometown of Indianapolis as we speak. I find the combine interesting on so many levels. It reinforces the fact that the NFL is first a business because all of these coaches and GM’s want to make sure they get ample reward for their investment. But I also believe that the drills and such can be overvalued. Look at Tom Brady. His combine showing was mediocre at best. But he’s a winner. I love the following video synching Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston in the 40-yard dash. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the #1 overall pick in the draft and they are completing their due diligence on both QB’s. but many scouts can get caught up in the “measurables”. If that were the case, Mariota would be the consensus #1 pick. He ran faster, jumped higher, tested better and so forth. But then they threw. At that’s where Jameis showed his ability. It’s such an inexact science which is why it’s so fascinating.

  • Sunday was the 35th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. This is the greatest upset in sports history and I’m not sure there can ever be anything to replace it. At this point in my life, it’s hard to comprehend that this even took place 35 years ago. I was 11 and remember where I was when I heard that the Americans had won. It was the early game and was being tape delayed for TV. We found out over the radio that the US had beaten the Russians and we went crazy. We still watched it and sat at the edge of our seats the entire game even though we knew the outcome. More than anything it was uplifting for us as a nation because we were getting our teeth kicked in on the news every night. Iran and Russia were bullying us (and others), gas prices and availability were poor, and it was just a depressing time in our nation. And the face that a sports team could lift up entire nation just shows the power of sports. Do I believe in miracles? Yes!
  • The most active trade deadline in NBA history took place this last week. 37 players, not including picks, were swapped between teams. It was fun to watch…except for the fact that the Pacers did nothing. This was a bad move on Larry Bird’s part and I think it will come back to haunt him for years to come. Point guards were available (Dragic, Lawson) and this was an opportunity to pounce and begin to rebuild with youth around a recuperating Paul George. But Larry stood still. West, Hibbert and George could have been moved to clear cap space, acquire assets, and obtain draft picks to reform the monster.
  • The NHL continued the 2015 Stadium Series this weekend with a tilt in the newly constructed Levi’s Stadium in San Jose where the hometown Sharks took on the Los Angeles Kings. Aside from the facts that the game is in a warm weather location and that the stadium is so large that fans aren’t close to the action at all, the daring of the LA Kings to wear white pants with a white jersey totally threw everyone for a loop. They looked like pajamas. Awful.
  • Speaking of Los Angeles, apparently the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders are teaming up to build a joint stadium in LA. I’m sure the NFL loves this as they’d rather have two teams in the second largest market in the US than just one. But it’s the details that I’m fascinated with in this scenario.

  • Here's where it gets interesting. The NFL does not want an unbalanced conference or an unbalanced schedule. which means a team in the NFC would have to move to the AFC in order to facilitate this move by the Chargers and the Raiders. Let's look at the NFC West - the Seahawks and 49ers are such bitter rivals at this point I can't see either one of them moving. The Cardinals are intriguing, but there's also the rumors of the Rams wanting to move to LA as well. As two of the older teams in the NFL it's going to be hard to ask one of them to leave for the AFC. At the same time, I would think the Chargers would move to the NFC, if for no other reason than the rivalries with the Raiders and the Broncos and Chiefs are too strong from the AFL days. I anxiously await to see how this plays out...

Until next time,

Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Guilty Pleasure

The time has come for me to address my biggest guilty pleasure – professional wrestling. Let me stop you right there – your first statement is going to be “you know it’s fake, right?” First and foremost, the word to use is “scripted”. The winner is predetermined, but the action is anything but fake. Just ask the multiple wrestlers who have had neck fusion surgery from all of the wear and tear (i.e. Edge). I’ll leave it to one of my favorite Twitter follows, Julie DiCaro, for the best explanation yet about professional wrestling:

In my youth I stumbled across the WWF (at the time) on a Saturday morning and watched as the All-American boys, Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda wrestled the evil duo of a Russian, Nikolai Volkov and an Iranian, The Iron Shiek. I was fascinated. It just so happened that it was the match where the Americans took the Tag Team Titles from the villains. My parents weren’t thrilled that I was watching wrestling so I couldn’t keep up with it as I wanted to, so I needed sources. My source told me that, not long after that match, the Russian/Iranian duo won the Tag belts back and Windham and Rotunda broke up. Bummer. Fast forward a few years and I am a freshman in college. One of my buddies from church happens to be a wrestling fan, so we begin to talk about it and my interest in rekindled. This was in 1987 – the year of Wrestlemania III. As my curiosity towards wrestling increased, the (in my opinion) greatest wrestling card of all-time took place in Detroit, Michigan. And the match that hooked me for life was the most epic match I have ever seen – the battle between Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Ricky Steamboat for the Intercontinental Title.

I’ve been a fan for life ever since. And I never leaned towards one particular company either. I would watch WCW on Turner on Saturdays, the WWF on Saturdays and Mondays, didn’t matter. And then this rogue company on the East Coast started showing up on local cable networks we had on DirecTV called ECW. I was blown away by the storytelling and the violence. I’m not a violent person and I don’t particularly care for constant “hardcore” wrestling, but at the time it was innovative and fresh. Well, as the story goes, the Monday Night Wars happened and WWE won out and is currently the main wrestling promotion (I’m not into TNA at all, can’t tell you why).
So there you have it; my back story on my affection for professional wrestling. Now on to more important details…

If you follow wrestling at all, the pinnacle of the sport is WrestleMania. It takes place in the first week of April, most often on the Sunday between Final Four days. The last two months leading up to WrestleMania write the stories that will play out in the penultimate event. This is our current position. It’s been written, ad nauseam, about the disaster that was the Royal Rumble. I won’t bore you with details other than this (in case you’re not up to speed on your pro wrestling storylines) – this winner of the Royal Rumble faces the champion in a title match at WrestleMania. This year, Roman Reigns, a former member of the faction The Shield, won the Rumble and was set to face Brock Lesnar at WM. But a funny thing happened on the way to San Jose…the fans revolted….again! It happened last year as the “chosen one”, Dave Batista, was roundly booed after he won the Royal Rumble because the fans wanted upstart Daniel Bryan to win the RR and headline WM. The WWE listened and changed storylines leading up to WM building Bryan’s ascent, leading to him defeating HHH, Randy Orton and Batista to win the World Heavyweight Title. Lessons learned, right? Wrong. The WWE botched it again by “force feeding” Reigns down the fans throats as the new “face of the company”. And the fans didn’t like it. It’s been covered very eloquently by my favorite wrestling writer,’s David Shoemaker here and by other writers as well.

Here’s where I come in. I will now write the stories for the upcoming WWE PPV, Fastlane (which by the way, goes to show you how out of touch they can be – doesn’t this sound like a DisneyFX cartoon for 8-10 year olds?), as well as WrestleMania.

Where do we currently stand? In the uproar after the Rumble the WWE quickly changed course and created some interesting plot twists. In an episode of RAW after the RR Seth Rollins wrestled Daniel Bryan, with the winner receiving a match with Reigns at Fastlane. The winner of the match at Fastlane then faces Lesnar at WM. Obviously you’ve picked up from my header that Daniel Bryan won the match at RAW and now faces Reigns at Fastlane. Reigns has been a bit edgier lately, which has helped him, but I think the fans still want Bryan at WM.

Here’s my idea. What is the one thing Reigns lacks? Mic skills. What wrestler is leaving the promotion after WM? Brock Lesnar. Who is an “advocate” or mouthpiece for Lesnar that will be out of work after WM? Paul Heyman. See where I’m going here? If the fans are going to boo you, like they did to Rocky Maivia, then give them what they want. Let the bloodlines merge. At Fastlane, Heyman shows up during the Bryan/Reigns match at ringside. He will “taunt” Reigns, continuing his spiel from the night after the Rumble to Reigns, telling him not to let his family down. In the end, Reigns goes after Heyman, gets counted out and catches him in the ring. At which point, the celebrating Daniel Bryan gets a beat down from Reigns and Heyman with Roman becoming the new “Paul Heyman guy”.

The next night on RAW Heyman gets on the mic and proceeds to wax poetic about how ignorant the fans are and that they have no idea what they want. Break down the veil of kayfabe and acknowledge that Lesnar is leaving after WM and that he picked out Reigns as the one to carry his torch when he leaves. Heyman then continues to eschew the fact that once Lesnar beats Bryan at WrestleMania, he will lie down and let Reigns pin him to become champion, a la Million Dollar Man and Andre the Giant. Reigns will then get on the mic and say it’s always been about the title and this was the best way not to get screwed and it’s “about what’s best for….(dramatic pause) me (him).” Mic drop. End of show.

Fast forward to WrestleMania…Daniel Bryan now has the unenviable task of defeating the beast Brock Lesnar. The match goes as most would imagine, very similar to Lesnar beat down of Cena at the last showdown. Complete domination by Lesnar over Bryan. Reigns comes down to ringside during the match, waiting for his moment to get his hands on the belt. The Authority comes down to make sure Reigns doesn’t get involved. They obviously don’t want Bryan to win but don’t want Lesnar laying down for Reigns either. As the match reaches its zenith, tempers flare and the Authority and Reigns get into a scrum. Heyman comes to help and Lesnar is distracted. This allows Daniel Bryan to catch Brock by surprise and beat him for the title. Heyman, Lesnar and Reigns are livid and start to cause issues with the “New” Authority (more on this later) and others. Hiding in the crowd, however, is Seth Rollins with the briefcase. He sneaks into the ring while Bryan is celebrating and clobbers him with the briefcase, which no one sees, and then cashes in his MITB shot. He pins Bryan to become champ. After he wins and his arm is raised with the belt, Reigns come streaking in from the outside and spears Rollins to end the show.

And thus begins a feud between Rollins and Reigns.

Who does Rollins fight after losing to Bryan on RAW for the chance to wrestle Reigns at Fastlane? No, not Randy Orton. How about Dolph Ziggler? Think about the match the two of them would have at WM…shades of Savage/Steamboat float in my head. Make it more interesting by putting the Money in the Bank briefcase up for grabs. How do you set it up? We’ve had the Authority mess with Ziggler, amongst others, in recent weeks. Use that storyline to setup the match and then let the two go at it. Rollins wins, but you need to set Ziggler up for a push to main event status.
At the same time, at Fastlane, Rollins needs to call out J&J Security, Kane and the Big Show and lecture them about the perils of failure. Let them know that he’s held the briefcase for an extended period of time but is not getting any help from them to reach his goal of being World Champion. Therefore, he has decided that they are all fired as members of The Authority. He then sends out a directive to all the superstars in the back that if they want to be on the fast track (or Fastlane, if you will) to the top then they can align themselves with Rollins.

It appears as though the WWE is trying to create old Hulk Hogan 2.0 with Cena by pitting him against the evil Rusev. BOR-ING!!! What good does it do for Cena to become the US Champ? Absolutely nothing. First, WWE needs to change the US Championship to the TV Title and have it defended every week on television. Second, get Cena and Rusev out of that picture – they are main event players. Obviously, the WWE is setting up a rematch for WrestleMania, so the outcome at Fastlane looks like it will be Rusev by DQ or interference.

Personally, I believe Cena is the guy to make so many of the young potential stars in the WWE. It was a role played very well by Terry Funk in his later years. There needs to be someone to bridge the gap between older starts (i.e. Big Show, Kane, etc…) to the new generation of superstars. Cena is that guy. The only problem is, I believe he needs to embrace his heel side to do it right. I grasp that he is a huge ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. But today’s fans don’t recognize a true babyface and a true heel anymore. It’s blurred lines. When Hogan turned he was pure heel and it was pure magic. His heat was white hot and it set the industry on its ear. Cena has the stroke to make the same waves. Turn him at WrestleMania – make the match with Rusev his turning point. Then post-WM have him put over younger guys like Barrett, Rollins, Ziggler, Ambrose, Reigns….even Zayn, Owens and Balor.

The program is set for Bray Wyatt to take on the Undertaker. I love this potential matchup but the major issue is that Taker goes away after WrestleMania and what’s left for Wyatt to do? Here’s what I would suggest – bring back “the family”. Only it’s not Harper and Rowan. It’s Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel and Cody Rhodes. All 2nd/3rd generation wrestlers who are sick of what’s happening in wrestling today and have decided to join the Wyatt Family to save the world. They can all run in at the end of the WrestleMania match with Taker to help beat him down after he beats Bray. Bray will start to cut promos about the new family right before and after Fastlane in his buildup with Taker.

I have LOTS of other ideas as well, but I don’t want to bore you as I’m almost at 2,000 words now. I’ll keep posting my WWE thoughts as time goes on….but I’m interested to know what you think. Comment or tweet me @illini3sc.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

MLB Dream Team Challenge

UPDATE: MLB Network Radio responded to my Facebook post and directed me to a different salary website: It was here I found that Tulowitzki was making $20 mil as opposed to the $16 mil I had him at for this year. Therefore, I needed to make a change and it was in the closers role. Hopefully, this one will work. :)

MLB Network Radio's Power Alley duo of Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette put out a challenge to all baseball fans - create your dream team based on the following rules:

The most difficult part of this was making sure I only had three guys UNDER 25. I have three guys UNDER 25....but three guys who are also 25. :)

Here's my roster:

Jonathan Lucroy
Anthony Rizzo
Jose Altuve
Troy Tulowitzki
Josh Donaldson
Bryce Harper
Mike Trout
Giancarlo Stanton
Madison Bumgarner
Zach Britton

Not bad, eh? The salaries are their 2015 salary so don't get caught up on guys like Stanton and Trout. That is their salary for this year.  I'm playing by the rules. :)

Give it a try yourself. Post your lineups here and on Facebook at MLB Network Radio's page.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Monday Musings

Yes, I realize it’s Tuesday but Monday Musings took the day off yesterday to celebrate President’s Day. Therefore, I give you a Tuesday edition of Monday Musings
  • Non-sports related intro – Sunday night was an epic night of television as NBC televised SNL40, a reunion celebrating 40 years of Saturday Night Live broadcasts. Cast members from all 40 years returned to take part in this show. I loved it. Yes, it made me feel old as I watched some of my favorite cast members’ return, but all-in-all it was fantastic. Instead of listing numerous highlights, I thought I would list the very few things I didn’t care for in the broadcast:
    • The sports montage did not show the episode with Walter Payton and Joe Montana. How on earth can you leave out those two icons? I was very disappointed I didn’t see Walter and Joe dancing with the Church Lady.
    • The Californians skit was WAY too long. I understand the concept of getting as many cameos as possible, but did we really need to drag it out long enough for Taylor Swift to show up? Just give us Betty White and be done with it.
    • The Eddie Murphy return….anticlimactic. When Chris Rock spends five times as much time introducing Eddie as Eddie does in speaking – that’s a problem. Do something Eddie. You’re the greatest stand-up comedian of all time – tell us a joke. Don’t just say ‘thank you’ then go to commercial. Very disappointing.
  • Speaking of SNL40, it totally kicked the NBA All-Star Game’s tail in the ratings. Honestly though, what All-Star Game is worth watching anymore? The Pro Bowl stinks. The NHL game is much like the NBA game where no one plays any defense. The MLB All-Star Game would be the best if it weren’t the stupid stipulation of home field advantage in the World Series. A couple more thoughts on the game itself (what little I watched of it):
    • The uniforms were awful. Why would the league EVER consider uniforms without a name on the front? Horrible. I didn’t mind having both names on the back, but it made the uniforms look like they belonged in a cheap pickup league. Terrible.
    • Adam Silver needs to seriously consider moving the 3-point line back further. This year’s game set a record for most 3-point shot attempts and makes. A combined total of 133 3-point shots were attempted. C’mon. The numbers have steadily increased the last few years. Why? Because IT”S TOO CLOSE. Make it more difficult. I beg of you Commissioner.
    • Carmelo Anthony. I don’t even know where to begin on this. The AS Game was “hosted” by NY/NJ. Carmelo, playing with the Knicks, was a de facto host. Therefore, he felt it necessary to play in the game. He played 30 minutes. What’s the big deal, you ask? He’s now shutting himself down for the rest of the year “due to injury”. What?!?! You’re going to play 30 minutes in a meaningless game but then not play for your actual team the rest of the year? Sadly, this is a sign of today’s athlete. And I’m not sure I like it. 
  • Another NBA note, and this might not be popular in my hometown, but the Pacers need to be serious sellers this week. The NBA trade deadline is Thursday and there are some contracts the Pacers can shed themselves of this week. David West? Buh-bye. Roy Hibbert? Buh-bye. George Hill? Sadly, but buh-bye to you too. Clear some cap space, acquire some young talent and/or draft picks, DO NOT LET PAUL GEORGE PLAY THIS YEAR, get in the lottery and build around PG. It’s not worth the time to continue to be mediocre. Making the playoffs as an 8 seed, getting bounced in the first round and picking 16th or 17th does you NO good. You’ve got the one major asset in PG, build the team around him.
  • In case you missed it, and it’s probable that you did, the Blackhawks hosted the Penguins in the Sunday NHL showcase on NBC. It was a fantastic game that came down to a shootout. If you don’t understand the rules, let me explain. The teams play three 20 minute periods. If they are tied at the end of regulation, they play overtime (both teams receive at least one point in the standings, but that’s for a different column). Overtime consists of 4-on-4 play for five minutes. In regulation, it’s 5-on-5. This opens up the ice and allows for more scoring opportunities. If the teams are still tied at the end of OT they proceed to a shootout. This consists of “penalty shots” (one-on-one, player vs. goalie) with at least three taking place until one team wins. This particular game went to a shootout and Patrick Kane’s shootout goal was ridiculous. In the famous words of “Uptown Funk”, Don’t believe me? Just watch.

  • Speaking of the NHL – Saturday night was the NHL’s alone. No NBA, NFL or any other games going on that night. Yes, the NBA All-Start Festivities were taking place, but real competition only took place in the NHL. And ESPN showed ZERO NHL highlights that night. Are you kidding me? Just another reason that ESPN is losing its luster…
  • Brandon Bostick was released by the Packers this weekend. Poor kid. He botches an onside kick and loses his job. Just goes to show you the win now, cutthroat mentality of the NFL.
  • And finally, PITCHERS AND CATCHER REPORT THIS WEEK!!!! Baseball is back baby!!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Behind the Curtain....of Me.

Most of my friends consider me an “old school” guy when discussing all things sports. My childhood hero was Walter Payton and my Dad always made a point to make sure I noticed when he scored a touchdown – he just handed the ball to the referee. It wasn’t about “me”; it was about the team and winning. Die to self. All the old school clich├ęs. I bought in hook, line and sinker.

However, in the mid-80’s, the flamboyance of athletes was starting to take shape. And as a high school student I was very impressionable. As someone who devoured any sporting event that was on television (we only had the three channels because we lived out in the farm lands and didn’t have cable television) the influences were abounding. Front and center were the Miami Hurricanes, the bad boys of college football. My disdain for them ran deep. Anyone and anything that spit in the face of “true sportsmanship” was my sworn enemy. The U, as they called themselves, were #1 on my hated list.

Knowing this, the fact that one of my all-time favorites athletes is Michael Irvin, is completely backward. In spite of most of our opinions aligning in one direction, there are anomalies that exist. Here is my chance to let you behind the veil as to why this specific one occurs. Some others, like being a pro wrestling fan, thinking Jose Canseco was a flat out stud, and rooting for Alabama football are stories for another time. This time it’s all about The Playmaker.

I stumbled across “The Road to Canton: Michael Irvin” last night on the NFL Network and I was hooked. It brought back all the memories of why I liked Mike (pun intended) and gave me even more information on the man and his triumphs and tragedies. My fondness for Irvin didn’t start until he became a Cowboy. As mentioned earlier, I couldn’t stand the Miami Hurricanes so my partiality towards Irvin didn’t start there. So how did it happen? I need to give you more back story. My older brother and I loved to compete against each other. Surprise, I know. So much so that we tended to take opposite ends of major college rivalries just to compete with each other. The most intense was USC-UCLA where my brother was a Trojan fan and I was a Bruin fan. UCLA happened to have a quarterback when I was in college named Troy Aikman. I have been, and always will be, a mark for Troy Aikman. He’s even one of my favorite analysts on television now that he’s retired. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Aikman number 1 overall in 1989. Obviously my affection for Troy carried into the professional level. And that’s where I began to learn about Michael Irvin.

Charisma. It’s a characteristic that draws us to people. Michael Irvin had it. My fascination with a player who would woof and talk smack seemed oddly fun. Maybe it was the little part of me that wanted to have the chutzpah to do that myself. To be good enough to talk smack, then back it up with my play. Before I saw it all as preening and arrogance, but now I saw it differently. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like self-aggrandizing athletes. For me, it was just different with Michael. He was the Triplet I was drawn to even though I had been (and still am ) a huge Troy Aikman fan.

As I learned more about Irvin, through books like “Boys Will Be Boys” and through NFL Films and all the media attention paid to those Cowboys, I grew fonder for Michael. My two favorite trait about Michael as a player were one, that he was the hardest worker on the team. Jeff Pearlman recounts this in his book, “Boys Will Be Boys” and reiterates here. In the NFL Network special teammates would be astounded at how Irvin could spend all night partying, and then come to practice the next day and point at every teammate and ask “Who’s going to outwork me today?” That’s fantastic. The second was when Jimmy Johnson became the coach of the Cowboys. They had worked together at Miami so Johnson had an instant ally in Irvin. And Michael let JJ know in no uncertain terms, which players needed to go. Michael, to me, was all about winning and being the guy everyone looked to in those tough times to lift them up. He must have been the greatest teammate.

Yes, I do understand that Michael had his demons. Something else he taught me was the valuable lesson of forgiveness. It’s difficult in society now to forgive. Fans still call Kobe (and I include myself in this) a rapist. I’m working on it. But Michael has owned up to his transgressions; and has vowed to make himself, and his sons, better people from it. Just watch the greatest Hall of Fame speech of all time and you’ll see what I mean.

There you have it, the clincher – the Hall of Fame speech. Brings me to tears every time. And those are the reasons why Michael Irvin is one of my favorite athletes of all time.

Behind the curtain of me.

Until next time,

Monday, February 09, 2015

Monday Musings - Hoops Edition

As you may, or may not, know basketball has never been a huge passion of mine. College basketball is intriguing come conference tournament time leading into the NCAA Tournament, which is fantastic. The NBA has never been high on my list of sports to watch in the winter. I much prefer an NHL game of watching off season programs on the MLB and NFL. Don’t hate – it’s just a preference.

However, on this Monday, there is a ton to talk about in the basketball world. So this edition of the Monday Musings will be dedicated to hoops!

  1. First and foremost, I need to mention the passing of a legend – Dean Smith. If there was a Mount Rushmore of college basketball coaches Dean Smith would be in the discussion (Wooden, Coach K, Bobby Knight, Rupp, etc...) and probably be on it. However, the measure of a man is not in the number of wins accumulated or championships won, it’s the impact he has had on other lives. While watching all the retrospectives on his life, the biggest point made by his former players was the influence Coach Smith had on them as men. It was more important to them to discuss his impact on them as men than as basketball players. That speaks volumes. His willingness to break down the barriers of segregation in his recruiting at a time where it wasn’t looked upon very fondly in the Carolina’s was courageous. But that is the kind of man Dean Smith was. Look at his coaching tree here. It is vast and it is extremely impressive. Again, it shows the impact on lives that Dean Smith had as the coach of North Carolina. Michael Jordan said it best, he stated that Coach Smith was "more than a coach — he was a mentor, my teacher, my second father."
  2. ICYMI, the most ridiculous foul call took place during the Illinois-Michigan State game in East Lansing on Saturday. Let me set the stage for you – Illinois is up 30 with about :30 left, yet the foul Trice of MSU. Because the Illini are over the limit Trice goes to the free throw line for a 1-and-1. He shoots and makes the first free throw, but as he does Jaylon Tate blocks him out from the potential rebound. Smart play. It happens on every free throw ever shot. Well, this time, apparently Tate caught Trice in an awkward position and bumped him in a sensitive area. Trice, the MSU players, and the coaches all complained. The referees then went to the monitors to check the situation. Now, a common foul cannot be called on a replay but a technical foul and/or a flagrant foul can be called. As an Illini fan I’m watching this incredulously, because Tate made a play everyone makes. The referees conferred and decided that A) the play was made during a dead ball and B)the contact was excessive and unnecessary. Therefore, a technical foul was called on Jaylon Tate. Now, Michigan State is down 2 points with another free throw from the initial 1-and-1, THEN they get two more free throws AND possession. John Groce, as every other Illini fan watching, was apoplectic. It was the worst call I’ve ever seen. Luckily it didn’t cost the Illini as Michigan State couldn’t shoot free throws to save their lives and Illinois won the game. You tell me – was this a “dead ball play”?
  3. Kentucky had quite a game against Florida on Saturday night, pulling out a 68-61 victory in Gainesville. It looked to be one of the tougher games left on their schedule, including the upcoming game at LSU on Tuesday. The debate is whether or not it’s good for UK to go undefeated into the tournament. I, for one, applaud Kentucky’s embracing of the possibility and their desire to want to go undefeated. In case you’ve been living under a rock in the state of Indiana you know that the last team to go undefeated and win the NCAA Tournament was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. A few teams have come close including the 1990-91 UNLV Running Rebels, the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils and the one closest to my heart, the 2004-05 Illinois Fighting Illini. I maintain that it was a good thing that Illinois lost in their last regular season game at Ohio State before the Big Ten Tournament started. I believed there would be too much pressure in both tournaments having been undefeated. But I’m also a crazy, psychotic Illinois basketball fan too so I didn’t want the pressure either. The manner in which Kentucky is embracing the challenge is refreshing. The question is – IF they go into the NCAA Tournament undefeated, then lose, will they backtrack and wish they had lost earlier in the year? I hope not. Embrace it and face it.
  4. Paul George – I’ve been on record fro m the very beginning that the Pacers need to officially shut him down for the year. And I’m not about to back away from that opinion. Currently, they are 2.5 games out of the 8th spot but have FOUR teams to jump to get there. For what? A sweep at the hands of Atlanta? What good does that do in any manner for the Pacers? Nothing, in my opinion. I know Larry Bird is a competitor and wants to win now, but you HAVE to think long term. Squeezing into the 8 seed and missing out on the lottery only exacerbates the possible mediocrity. With Hibbert and West possibly on their way out the time is now to rebuild around George. Other than Solomon Hill and possibly Hill, who else is on the roster that you are willing to commit to long term? Exactly. Make some moves now, clear some cap space, and hope to get near the top of the draft to nab a young 7 footer. It just makes sense.
  5. Finally, a couple of quick hits:
    • Girls Sectionals start this week. There are some great matchups. Go out and support your local girls basketball team.
    • The hottest team in the Midwest right now may be the Butler Bulldogs. What a great job Chris Holtmann has done with this squad.
    • Blake Griffin out for a while with a staph infection for the Clippers. That does not bode well for a team struggling right now to stay in the playoff picture with the MVP candidate in the lineup. We’ll see how this shakes out.
    • Finally, 33 days until Selection Sunday.
Until next time!