Sweet 16: South and East Sweet 16 Picks

March 26, 2009

 

AP Photo/Matt York

AP Photo/Matt York

If you’re looking for analysis on the UCONN recruiting scandal, politely click the red “X” in the top right corner. Unlike Yahoo, I respect the sanctity of the NCAA tournament and what it means to student athletes’ futures. Publicity ploys such as these only benefit writers’ resume, at the expense of kids who’ve kept their noses clean. How anyone could take pleasure in generating distractions this time of year is beyond me.

 

Now, let’s get to my picks for tonight s games.

 

 

UConn over Purdue

 

I’ve heard quite a few analysts suggest that Purdue is capable of upsetting UCONN tonight. What the hell are they smoking? I could go into the particulars of the how this player matches up with that player, but I’m looking at this game from a motivation perspective. The lights are always bright when you reach this point in the season. However when all eyes are tuned in to see how you react to recent developments, you’re motivated to make a statement. This game will go one of two ways: UCONN runs Purdue out of the building, or Purdue loses a close one. Either way I don’t see Purdue overcoming their rebounding deficiencies.

 

Pittsburgh over Xavier

 

All week Pittsburgh has heard they would be the first #1 seed to knocked out the tournament. I can get behind that line of thinking, based off their recent tourney history. Pitt is often favored to reach the Elite Eight and Final Four, but they always play a terrible game that results in them being ousted. Sean Miller is gonna throw big body after big body at Dejuan Blair, and if he’s able to stay out of the foul trouble, I believe Pitt can squeak out another nailbiter.

 

Memphis over Missouri

 

I’m sick of hearing Digger Phelps and Doug Gottlieb go on & on about how Tyree Evans won’t be able to handle Missouri’s pressure. Did they not see Maryland press Memphis last week? Tyreke would inbound the ball and pass it off to Dozier at midcourt, or Antonio Anderson & Roburt Sallie would bring it up the court. Calipari won’t put his freshman in the uncomfortable position of trying to break a press that he’s not accustomed to seeing. Mike Anderson might’ve coached UAB when they beat Memphis in 2006. But this isn’t he same Memphis team, and Anderson hasn’t coached against a team with Memphis’s size. Darius Washington and Rodney Carney aren’t shooting shots for the hell of it, and Joey Dorsey isn’t out there losing his mind. The game might be close, but Memphis’s size and talent will prevail.

 

Villanova over Duke

 

Duke has been playing pretty good basketball since Jon Scheyer too over point guard duties, and I love the Memphis kid, Elliot Williams’s impact on the defensive end. Yet when I look at Villanova’s depth and that difficult matchup inside Dante Cunningham creates for Duke’s bigs, I have to give the edge to Villanova. Scottie Reynold and Corey Fisher’s perimeter play should give Duke’s defense fits tonight. So like most of my picks in this year’s tournament…when in doubt, go with the big East. Villanova wins a close one.

 

Hopefully we see some good games tonight. And I’ll delve into the Midwest and South regions tomorrow.

 

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Why the NFL Should Not Expand the Regular Season

March 25, 2009
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

There has been a lot of talk coming from Commissioner Roger Goodell about increasing the number of regular season games from 16 to 17 or 18. Most of the scenarios I have seen are that the league would reduce the number of preseason games from four to two, and add two games to the regular season to make it an 18 game regular season. Unfortunately it’s not a matter of if it will happen, it’s just a matter of when.

I am STRONGLY and EMPHATICALLY opposed to increasing the number of regular season games to 17 or 18 games. I think it’s fine if the league cuts the preseason to two or three games, but increasing the number of regular season games is only about one thing – MONEY. It’s not about the fans and it’s definitely not about the players. I am strongly opposed to increasing the number of regular season games for two key reasons.

First, and most important, is injuries. Football is a very violent sport and injuries are common. If there were two more regular season games we would inevitably see more star players, who we watch the game to see, hurt during the season. In the first week of the 2008 regular season we saw many star players get hurt, the most obvious being Tom Brady. In just week one of 2008 we saw injuries to Tom Brady, Brodie Croyle, Vince Young, Jeff Garcia, Nate Burleson, Marques Colston, Marion Barber, Joseph Addai, Todd Heap, Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates, and even LaDainian Tomlinson. Now not all these injuries were season ending, but they certainly had an effect on players’ games the rest of the year.

More games means more injuries. The season, I think, is already too long and it is more a game of attrition and who is left with more healthy bodies at the end than it is the best team wins. More games would just exacerbate the situation.

Add to that, according to the National Football League Players Association, the average career of a football player is 3 ½ years. Now I have seen averages slightly higher than that so let’s say it’s 4 ½ years. And let’s face it, a lot of this short career span has to do with injury. If you add two games to the regular season, a player will have played an entire extra half season after four years, assuming he didn’t make the playoffs. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the violent game of football, the career suddenly just got a wee bit shorter. The more games you add, the shorter the stay in the league, and the greater the chances of a career ending injury.

Secondly, anything that cheapens in the importance of individual regular season games is a mistake. Each game now is very important in making the playoffs and getting home field advantage, at least until toward the end of the season once you have it wrapped up. If each individual game becomes less important, will the players try as hard week in and week out? Will fans even care?

Counter to that is the end of the season. We already have at least one week, and for some teams two weeks, were they have things all wrapped up and they play their second string guys and give the game a pass. If there were more games, then we would likely see two and maybe even three or four weeks where teams have their division and seeding decided and have to figure out how to manage the rest of the season while resting their star players and avoiding injuries. And this gets really messy when you have one bubble team playing a team of second stringers, and another bubble team playing a losing team giving their all, or another bubble team. So while one team gets a pass and a better chance of making the playoffs, the other team still has to fight for their spot. It’s not really fair. And more games likely means more of this at the end of the season.

And then we have the problem of bad teams making the playoffs. You can already guess that if they expand the regular season I can almost assure you they will expand the number of teams in the playoffs. We already have had 8-8 teams in the playoffs and on rare occasions have had the possibly of a losing team making the playoffs. I don’t want 8-8 teams in the playoffs, even if it’s my own. But if the league expands the regular season and then adds teams to the playoffs, that is what we will get, watered down less important regular season games, and mediocre teams, or worse, making the playoffs. Even for a fan as avid as I am, I’d be less enthusiastic about regular season games if this were to occur.


Happy to Be Alive: The Story of Darryl Stingley

March 23, 2009

5eea228348a08f7134b12110_l__aa240_Happy to Be Alive by Darryl Stingley with Mark Mulvoy

Review by C. Douglas Baker

 

On August 12, 1978, Darryl Stingley’s life changed forever.  On that date, in a meaningless preseason professional football game, after a vicious, unnecessary hit by Jack Tatum, Darryl became a quadriplegic.  This book is his story about his struggle to survive and live a meaningful life after going from a young, promising professional athlete to a wheelchair in single terrible moment.

 

Stingley’s book is fascinating on several fronts and he’s brutally honest about himself and those around him.  As a boy growing up in an inner city neighborhood, despite being a little better off than many, he was little hooligan—stealing, fighting, looting. 

 

Not that he did this constantly as a way of life, but he was involved in these activities despite his parents trying to keep him out of trouble.  As a big man on campus in high school he knocked up his girlfriend Tina, and then knocked her up again when he went to Purdue to play football on a scholarship. 

 

He was clearly very immature.  Even when he made it to the NFL, his lack of maturity showed and he freely admits it in his book.  To his credit he stayed with Tina pretty much his entire life, and she with him, despite some separation long after his injury.  She clearly was a solid person, nursing him back to health and dealing with an overbearing mother-in-law.  They eventually married.

 

Darryl gives a great deal of detail about his recovery process and the pain and depression that went along with it.  The people who stood by him and come out looking the best in all his travails were his partner Tina, John Madden who visited him frequently in the hospital and may have saved his life when a breathing apparatus malfunctioned and he yelled for the nurses, his therapists that put up with him, and the New England Patriots organization, at that time owned by the Sullivan family, who took care of all his medical bills and made sure he had everything he needed to recover.  His Patriots teammates were also an important part of his life before and after the injury. 

 

Needless to say Jack Tatum comes off looking very bad, not only never apologizing or reaching out to Darryl, but making overtures of a public meeting that turned out to be to promote his book, showing a lack of sincerity.  He comes off as classless and crass.

 

This is an interesting, introspective, personal story of one man’s life.  Darryl did recover and lived a productive life.  This book was published in 1983, five years after the injury.  Darryl went on to work with youth and charities in his native Chicago and died in April 2007 of heart disease and pneumonia complicated by quadriplegia.


Review Of All American: The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe

March 23, 2009

5156ge54fal__ss500_All American: The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe by Bill Crawford

Review by C. Douglas Baker

All American: The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe is an interesting biography of the greatest athlete of the 20th Century, albeit with some flaws. Thorpe, a Sac and Fox Indian, grew up on a reservation with a tough father and mother.

He was placed in a number of boarding schools and kept running away, but did finally wind up in his early teens at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The boarding school, dedicated to the education and acculturation of Indian youth into white society, is where Thorpe came under the tutelage of Glen Scobey “Pop” Warner, who helped coach and guide him in track and football.

Thorpe’s biggest claim to fame was the infamous gold medals he won in the pentathlon and decathlon of the 1912 Olympics, thereafter being proclaimed the greatest athlete in the world. He was also a football star for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, helping the team beat such notable gridiron institutions as Harvard, Penn, and Army.

While at Carlisle, Jim Thorpe played “summer baseball” being paid to play on semi-professional baseball teams in North Carolina. Thorpe had a limited source of income from his holdings in Oklahoma so made a little spending money playing baseball in the summer. This was a very common practice for college athletes at the time.

Given the choice of making money doing hard labor on a farm or playing ball, it wasn’t a tough choice. Unfortunately, this created a huge scandal because of the odious Olympic definition of “amateur athlete” and Thorpe was stripped of his medals after being sold out (according to Crawford) by Pop Warner and James Sullivan, the head of the Amateur Athletic Union that controlled the Olympics in America. These medals were later reinstated long after Thorpe’s death.

In addition to being a biography of Thorpe and telling us a bit about his early life and his athletic career at Carlisle, the book has a theme, the exploitation of amateur athletes, like Thorpe.

Amateur athletics bring in large amounts of money for coaches, schools, and hangers on, money that is made on the athletic prowess of these “amateur athletes.” Meanwhile the athletes themselves get nothing (or maybe a little under the table) and in fact their lives are carefully controlled by those profiting from their efforts.

The last chapter is an indictment, somewhat, of the Olympics and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the exploitation of college and amateur athletes.

Overall this is a fine book providing a clear picture of Jim Thorpe, Pop Warner, and the real situation around Thorpe being unfairly stripped of his Olympic medals. The primary flaw of the book is it covers very little of Thorpe’s professional athletic career in football and baseball, which was disappointing. It is also a bit stilted in writing style. These are minor flaws as the entire work is definitely worth reading.

 

All American: The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe


Review of Super Bowl XLI Champions DVD: Peyton Manning Wins the Big One

March 23, 2009

51sjr0-fdl__sl500_aa240_The Indianapolis Colts, after several years of Playoff frustration and failing to meet high expectations, finally won a Super Bowl when they topped the Chicago Bears in the game’s 41st iteration.

But though the team’s tale is one of success, the DVD chronicling it isn’t so great. This highlights package, which has been done for each Super Bowl for several years now, is not one of the better efforts by NFL Films.

I am sure Colts fans will greatly enjoy reliving the long-awaited championship season and will want this as a keepsake. The regular-season highlights are mostly well done, but the Playoff highlights are of mixed quality. The Super Bowl clips were, in general, very good, but a bit lacking in the emotional buildup and suspense that makes these packages a delight for fans.

But the biggest disappointment is that the disc does not have the full game on it as some of the previous editions have. Also, the bonus features are sub-par, as the montages are short and not very informative or revealing.

As with other DVDs in this series, the main feature is an hour-or-so-long highlight reel of Indianapolis’ 2006 season, featuring bits of every regular season and Playoff game and extensive footage from the Super Bowl.

But this version does only an average job of really building the suspense and emotion of the season. It simply lacked the kind of emotional drama and tension I have come to expect in these packages. There also weren’t very many close-up, on-the-field shots that bring the action up-close and personal.

Another key drawback to this production is a lack of completeness; they obscure the real story behind the games by leaving out key details. Yes, that is a complaint you can make about all the videos like this the NFL produces; in the short time span allotted to each game, important plays and turning points are often left out.

This entry in the series, however, is particularly guilty; there is one segment that leaves the viewer with a false impression of what really happened in the game. The highlights of the Colts’ 23-8 first-round Playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs show a story that is is only half-correct.

The Colts defense did step up and shut down one of the most potent running attacks (and offenses) in the league by holding Kansas City running back Larry Johnson to only 32 yards rushing. But the Colts offense did not have a great game, though the production extolls the virtues of Peyton Manning and his outfit. Almost nothing was said about Manning’s three interceptions and the general sloppiness and inconsistency of the offense.

Yes, the key story in that game was the Colts D, but without pointing out the shakiness of the offense in its first 2007 postseason game, the DVD gives an inaccurate portrayal of the contest. As an historical record of the Colts’ run to the Super Bowl, I find this egregious.

As noted, this highlights package is average, at best, but there are some good things about it, too. The opening montage has a few nicely understated interviews about the heartbreaking postseason losses of the team in the three prior seasons, twice to the New England Patriots and to the Pittsburgh Steelers in ’05.

The best and most revealing interview was with Jim Irsay, owner of the Colts, who said before the season (paraphrased): “We don’t want our legacy to be one of the best teams to never win a championship. Our legacy has yet to be determined.”

That was a great summation of the position the Colts found themselves in in 2007.

The disc also has a solid chronicle of the Colts’ mid- to late-season breakdown on defense; they became the regular season’s worst team at rushing defense, and this could not continue in the Playoffs if they expected to make a championship run. Scenes that follow show how the defense really turned it around in late December and beyond by shutting down some powerful running attacks, helping propel the Colts into the Super Bowl.

 Of course, Peyton Manning is the star of the show, but kudos to the compilers for featuring the outstanding play of the offensive line, rookie running back Joseph Addai, receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark, and the impact of the return of safety Bob Sanders from an injury. This more well-rounded approach is refreshing, as the film could have ended up as a simple ode to the team’s signal caller.

The recap of the Colts’ 29-17 victory over Chicago in the season’s final game was generally well done, though emotional drama was notably missing. It did show one awesome play: safety Bob Sanders before the snap, then him rushing toward Cedric Benson, the Chicago running back, and making a picture-perfect hit, tackle, and forced fumble.

It was a beautiful play and an outstanding piece of camera work and editing; the collection could have used more stuff like that. If I were a Colts fan that would have gotten me really pumped. Too bad there wasn’t more of this type of action throughout.

The bonus materials were mostly a complete waste of time. Honestly, this might be the worst I’ve seen yet in these productions.

First, as noted earlier, it didn’t have the full game broadcast, which is a big strike against it for me. It also featured the NFL Network Postgame show, featuring talking heads (mostly Jim Mora, former Colts head coach) saying not much of anything and no real analysis of the game.

There is a heartwarming profile of Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, who lost both his parents within four months of each other and his brother of leukemia about a year later after he donated bone marrow to him, as well as a profile of coach Tony Dungy. There are a few wired-for-sound segments of Manning, Harrison, and the staff in games against the Patriots, but that was nothing special.

The two quick segments on Peyton Manning’s well-known antics behind the line of scrimmage before snapping the ball and how Tony Dungy runs practice were also okay, but uninformative to the avid football fan.

There is a more extensive package for the Colts-Patriots AFC Championship game which offers more thorough highlights than that of the main feature, but this suffers from the same lack of game analysis and drama as the rest of the video.

And, of course, there are the obligatory shots of a few Colts players and Tony Dungy being interviewed during Media Day. This didn’t elicit much really, although the interview with defensive tackle Anthony McFarland talking about Tony Dungy’s coaching style was interesting.

Finally, while I could care less about halftime shows or pre-game bits, I was at first baffled that the bonus materials included the dreadful Cirque Du Soleil affair from beforehand but not Prince’s performance, which I actually found entertaining. But then I realized that Prince slipped in a phallic symbol during the show (and yes, I’m pretty sure he did it on purpose) and that that’s probably why it’s not on the DVD.

Despite the many drawbacks, I am sure Colts fans will find this very entertaining as they relive a great, well-deserved championship season. Congratulations to Indianapolis for a great season.

Disclaimer: I am an avid New England Patriots fan and this video actually made me want to puke. But it did not affect my review of the video. The fact I didn’t break down in tears or break any furniture during the highlights of the AFC Championship game is evidence enough of the general lack of drama-building and emotional tension of the presentation.

NFL Super Bowl XLI – Indianapolis Colts Championship DVD


Review of No Excuses by Charlie Weis

March 21, 2009

51salmpu0gl__sl500_aa240_No Excuses: One Man’s Incredible Rise Through the NFL to Head Coach of Notre Dame by Charlie Weis with Vic Carucci

Book Review by C. Douglas Baker

No Excuses details the rise of Charlie Weis from a high school football coach to a stint as an offensive coordinator and head coaching candidate in the NFL to the head coach of the storied Notre Dame football program.

Weis certainly doesn’t have the resume of most prominent head football coaches in the NFL. As a Notre Dame undergrad, instead of diagramming plays and obsessing about football like so many other head coaches in his position, Weis longed for a career as a sports broadcaster.

Having also gotten a degree in English, Weis found himself teaching and coaching sports in high school where he started to learn the nuances of the game. Through contacts, Weis eventually wound up as an assistant coach at the University of South Carolina.

While at South Carolina he did some grunt work breaking down plays for the New York Giants. Noticing his work ethic and acumen, Weis was eventually offered a job by head coach Bill Parcells. The job was low on the pecking order but it gave Weis his start in the NFL.

From there, of course, he climbed through the ranks, eventually following Bill Belichick, Parcells’ long time defensive coordinator, to the New England Patriots where he served as offensive coordinator.

Three Super Bowl championships later and a brush with death after gastric bypass surgery to control his weight, Weis was offered a job as head football coach at his alma mater, Notre Dame, a job he just couldn’t turn down.

This book really is not about football. It’s mostly about Weis’ rise through the ranks and his personal work and moral ethics that are the groundwork for what he teaches players and how he tries to conduct himself in the rough and tumble world of professional and big time college football.

Much of his coaching philosophy comes from his sports crazed childhood and current family life, in which he has a special needs child. He seems to have a very solid foundation for a job that requires a great deal of leadership and motivational skills.

The biggest drawback of the book is a lack of material about the biggest games Weis has been involved in as a coach and his football philosophy (the X’s and O’s). There’s little here about the day to day activities of a coach, nor is there a chronicling of the Patriots’ Super Bowl winning seasons which Weis was an integral part of.

Readers looking for a book about football or the New England Patriots (or the New York Giants) will be disappointed. I know I was, a little.

There is, however, a very good chronicling of Weis’ near death experience after gastric bypass surgery and how Tom Brady, the New England Patriots’ quarterback, helped his wife cope with the situation. It’s a rather touching story about Brady and gives insight into why he is so well liked around the league.

Overall, this is a very readable, engaging book and interesting for football fans—despite that it talks little about football specifically.

No Excuses: One Man’s Incredible Rise Through the NFL to Head Coach of Notre Dame


March Madness: Round 2

March 21, 2009

in_a_calipari_576

If anyone’s seen my bracket, let me know. After a slow day Thursday, my brackets were toast by 11 p.m. last night. I filled out so many brackets, but the two I’m most focused on, on in the PSN Yahoo group. My “The Crunkest” bracket had 23 out of the 32 winners. That’s not terrible but when you consider that I lost two of my Sweet 16 teams, I’ll need everyone else to lose the Xavier/Wisconsin, and Cleveland St./Arizona game. Seriously, who had Cleveland St. and Wisconsin winning those games?

The second round tips off in a matter of hours. I’m anxious to see if teams like Pitt, Memphis, and Villanova can bounce back from rather shaky performances. If not, I’m screwed because all three in my Elite Eight, and two are in my Final Four. Hopefully Calipari, Dixon, and Wright chewed their guys out, and they’ll play like the great teams they are.

Anyway, here are the games I’m keeping an eye on, and how I think they’ll turn out.

3 Villanova over 6 UCLA

I haven’t been impressed with UCLA all season. They’ve been inconsistent on defense this year, and that’s unusual when talking about a Ben Howland team. If Villanova had played a better game Thursday, and this game wasn’t in Philadelphia, I could see UCLA grinding this game out until the end. Unfortunately that’s not the case. I really think this game will boil down to UCLA playing the wrong team, at the wrong time & place.

2 Memphis over10 Maryland

As a Memphis fan I was beside myself after their “too cool for school” approach to Cal St. Northridge. I don’t care if you’re the L.A. Lakers playing the Memphis Grizzlies, if you think you can win a game just by walking on the court, there’s 50-50 chance you’re gonna get your ass kicked. Talk about a bail out, that’s what Roburt Sallie did for Memphis. I didn’t think the kid had it in him. Before the season I thought he’d be the deadly sharp shooter Memphis has been looking to pair with their overly athletic team. Those expectations were never realized until Thursday so I gave up hope. Thursday’s game should serve as a wake-up call for a team that has championship aspirations.

As for Maryland, all my concerns about the matchup, went out the window after I read the Commercial Appeal’s article on Greivis Vasquez.

“If they (Memphis) played in the ACC, they’d have a losing record in the league. They’d win all their games outside the league. The ACC is tough. You can’t win games night in and night out because you have good athletes.”

 

Thank you Greivis, you’d set my mind as ease. When you kick a giant while he’s down, all you do is motivate him to rise up and swat you away. I love Memphis in this game, and I can’t wait to see Vasquez eat a nice plate of barbecued crow.

 

1 North Carolina over 8 LSU

 

Don’t hold me to that pick because I would happily accept being proven wrong. LSU really showed me something against Butler. They’re far more athletic than I had originally believed, and Marcus Thornton is a baller. I hate picking North Carolina in games like this one. LSU has long athletic players that could give Hansbrough some trouble. Like it’s been said over the past week, this game will come down to Ty Lawson’s health. If he’s able to be the explosive guard he’s been all season, I believe North Carolina could run away from LSU early.

 

Rest of the picks:

1 UCONN over 9 Texas A&M

4 Washington over 5 Purdue

2 Oklahoma over 10 Michigan

4 Gonzaga over12 W. Kentucky

2. Duke over 7 Texas

3 Syracuse over 6 Arizona St.

12 Wisconsin over 4 Xavier

3 Kansas over 11 Dayton

12 Arizona over 13 Cleveland St.

1 Pittsburgh over 8 Oklahoma St.

3 Missouri over 6 Marquette

10 USC over 2 Michigan St.

1Louisville over 9 Sienna 

Enjoy today’s games folks.