Monday, February 26, 2007


Maybe "3 yards and a cloud of dust" is supposed to be a football analogy, but once again we saw that it works almost as well for Big 10 Basketball. The most recent example: the 49-48 survival of my beloved Buckeyes over those equally scrappy Badgers from Wisconsin (hats off to you guys, and I hope we never see you again this year). I was relieved on a couple different levels after that game. Sure, it was nervewracking watching Ohio State blow that 8-point 2nd Half advantage and spend the last few minutes crawling back from behind, but there was something far greater on the line than that or even the regular season conference championship. The young Bucks have finally beaten one of the big boys. Granted, it was at home, but they had to have this one more than any other squad I can recall at present (although it is late right now; maybe I'll come up with something by morning).

Three times this season, Ohio State has gone into the lion's den, and UNC, Florida and Wisconsin all chewed them up and spit them out. After Sunday's brutal contest, however, I think it's safe to say that the shell of this team has hardened enough to resemble its namesake. Make no mistake, this group is still a work in progress, as evidenced by a few sloppy passes here, a few Greg Oden travels there and of course that helter-skelter sequence with about 45 seconds to go trailing by 1 that at the time I was 95% sure had cost them the game. To their credit, however, they collected themselves enough to pounce on the opportunity provided by Wisconsin's Kammron Taylor missing the front end of a 1-and-1. Then, Mike Conley Jr., who continues to improve every time I see him (although I wish he'd inherited a little of his dad's jumping ability; dunks would have looked really nice at the end of those couple of runouts he had), made a clutch runner in the lane. Last, but certainly not least, there was the monster block by senior leader and erstwhile bunch scorer Ron Lewis. If the Buckeyes end up the year cutting down the nets at the Georgia Dome, I think we'll look back on those final minutes as the catalyst, because it was a convergence of so many things crucial for a young team: finally getting that first top-quality W, clawing back from a late defecit after blowing the lead, winning a hard-fought defensive struggle in the final 15 seconds, having the freshman floor general take over when he was needed most and seeing the veteran leader simply refuse to let his team to go down.

On an unrelated note, is anyone else getting tired of any reference to the 1962 team (the last Buckeyes to end as AP #1 and the last to play for the NCAA title) ending with "and a sub named Bob Knight" and the like? I've seen it at least half a dozen times this year. That is all.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Back In the Saddle

With my basketball team hopefully on the road to recovery (currently 5-4 against the league leaders this week), I'm starting to turn some attention to fantasy baseball. As the commissioner, defending champ and husband of the only other champ in league history, the pressure to dominate my fake baseball league couldn't be higher (I'll pause while the gravity of that sentence, and what me making a statement like that implies about my sanity, sinks in). The first order of business is to see who's coming back. Within six hours of sending out the email to invite everyone back, 5 of the usual suspects already responded, including G's and my friend Kevin in Taipei. (that's right, we're international, baby!) He lost to G in the inaugural league championship in 2005 but fell on hard times last year, missing the playoffs. That hasn't diminished his trash-talking ability one iota. As the all-time league leader in this category (and it isn't even close), you can always count on Kevin to spice things up a bit. In this case, he's vowing payback to the rest of the league for his 2006 struggles. He tends to load up on Cleveland Indians, so they're going to need to avoid underachieving (as they did last year) if Kevin is to follow up on his pledge.

This is a keeper league, so I'm going to have some interesting decisions to make pretty soon here. The league hasn't voted on how many players we get to hold onto, but one thing's for sure: I won't be able to keep everyone I want. Johan Santana's a no-brainer, but beyond that, about half of my team is roughly on that next level of guys you want, but may not be slam dunks depending on how many guys get to stick around and what you need to give up to hold onto them (last year, we regarded keeper picks as slotted into the team's Xth-round draft pick, and we'll probably do something similar this year). Do I lock in 2006 slugging revelation Chris Duncan (22 HR in 280 AB)? How about a proven power hitter in a walk year (Jermaine Dye)? Steals are rare, so do I hang onto breakout thief Hanley Ramirez, who had 51 last year? Speaking of scarcity, what about Chase Utley, a power source at an unlikely position (2B)? Then, you go to pitching. I loved last year's bullpen (in particular veterans BJ Ryan and Scot Shields, plus my sleeper closer du jour, Chris Ray of Baltimore), but in large part because of my historical success with guys like Ray, I'm likely to cut down my keeper list here first.

Finally, Jered Weaver presents a uniquely interesting case (hence, he gets his own paragraph). If you project his numbers over an entire year, you end up with something like 21-4, 200 K, 2.60 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Of course, you can't really do that; he could hit a wall in his first full big-league season, hitters could figure him out, he could figure them out more, he might get more or less support from the Angels this year, he's likely to go up against opponents' #1 and #2 starters where he faced #4 and #5 guys last year, and there's probably at least half a dozen other factors I can't even think of right now. Even though a lot of those are negative, you can't ignore the potential this guy has. I'm likely to keep him, since the fact that I got him on waivers last year as opposed to in the draft will likely make him a bargain, but Weaver's one of those guys that could make or break my season. If he puts the type of numbers up that I mentioned a couple sentences ago, combined with yet another solid season from Johan (I've been on his bandwagon since he was a part-time starter in 2003, so we're on a first-name basis at this point), then my team will go quite far in the pitching categories. If not, my season might not be toast, but it will put more pressure on me to mine for a solid but heretofore unknown or unremarkable starter in the regular draft.

Well, I think I just set the record for talking about a fantasy league whose members aren't even set yet, so I think I'll shut it down for now.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

What I Learned From the Super Bowl

I’d like to thank the Colts and Bears for providing an extremely enjoyable TV watching experience. OK, extremely enjoyable for most people outside the Chicago and Boston metropolitan areas, but still. I never thought I’d be so entertained by a game in which there were 8 turnovers, but as one of my viewing companions noted, the miscues were so evenly distributed (especially early on) that all they did was provide more intrigue. Since the sloppy weather was so much of a factor, just imagine how entertaining the game would have been had they played it in Fort Wayne, Indiana as Tony Dungy jokingly suggested they do, due to it being roughly halfway between Indy and Chicago (according to my brother-in-law, who lives in Fort Wayne, being mentioned by Dungy in the national media caused a big stir there; I think they’re going to rename the city Dungyville any day now).

On the whole, I did very badly with my pregame prognosticating. I did get the one right about Grossman playing poorly, but predicting that is like betting on seeing a borderline insane-sounding rant in any post-1989 Al Pacino movie. You know it’s coming since it’s the guy’s calling card, yet you’re never quite prepared for it because it comes at you out of nowhere. By the way, does anyone else hear all the talk about Bad Rex and Good Rex and half-expect Lovie Smith to be waiting on the sideline with either a scolding finger or a doggie treat for Grossman, depending on how a particular drive turned out? (“Yay touchdown! Treats for touchdown!”)

One prediction I am quite proud of, however, is getting within 9 total points of the correct score. As terrible as I usually am at predicting game outcomes and scores, I actually feel like I won my own personal Super Bowl. Those of you who read this blog semi-regularly know me well enough to realize that I’m just warped enough to believe this.

Peyton Manning said all the right things after being selected the game’s MVP, which was utterly disappointing, although by no means a surprise. Seriously, guys, would it be too much to ask for someone to pull a Leon in this situation to keep things interesting? Anyway, I wouldn’t be shocked, despite Manning’s outward graciousness, if somewhere deep within him he allowed himself this thought: “You know, I’m so glad we don’t have that idiot kicker anymore; he’s just not mentally tough enough to win a championship.” After last year’s divisional game against Pittsburgh, I’d have to agree with such a sentiment. Conversely, you can be certain that Vanderjagt is off somewhere thinking, “If I were still there, we’d have won by 3 more points.” You know what? He’d be absolutely correct, too. Since the field goal Vinatieri missed at the end of the first half had no bearing whatsoever on the game’s final outcome, Vanderjagt would have totally nailed it.

Back to the MVP award, I’m not surprised it went to Manning. There was no clear-cut candidate and when that happens, it always goes to the winning team’s QB. Plus, it makes for the best story given all that he’s gone through. While I don’t have a problem with any of that, and while Manning did make a number of nice plays, I would have given the award to Dominic Rhodes if I were making the decision at the end of the game. It just always seemed like whenever he was on the field, the Bears’ vaunted defense didn’t have an answer for his rugged, north-south style, and he moved the chains in some key situations. After listening to a post-game interview with Rhodes this morning, though, I think he had the best idea of all: give it to the Colts’ offensive line. They did play superbly after some early trouble with false starts, and without their efforts neither Rhodes nor Joseph Addai would have had nearly the impact on the game that they did. Plus, if the line play weren’t so flawless, we all know that Manning would definitely have showed off those happy feet that always got him into postseason trouble in years past.

I realize I’m about to become the 1,000,000th person to say this, but I’m really happy for Tony Dungy. I’ve known about him since his days as Vikings defensive coordinator, so obviously I have a bit of a soft spot for him to begin with. However, anyone has to appreciate a guy who paid more dues than he should have had to, watched another guy coach his players to the championship the year after he was unjustly fired, endured horrible personal tragedies and persevered through several near-misses until he finally got the title he so richly deserved. What’s more, he did all of this with a level of class and grace that thoroughly impresses everyone he meets. Congratulations, Coach Dungy; you’ve earned this and then some.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Rambis Needs New Rec Specs

The hangover from my monumental fantasy football disaster has spilled over into basketball, were Rambis's Heroes sit in 5th place at 53-63, 22.5 games out of first. That's what leaving 2 of the 9 guys in your starting lineup in place despite injuries lasting over a month each will do to you. You may recall me being rather upbeat about my team's chances during the live blogging of the draft, at least to the point where I felt comfortable making numerous snarky comments about everyone else's teams (of course, my prediction of self-jinxing after several such remarks directed at Kevin's team seems rather prophetic with him sitting in 2nd place right now).

If you wait until the beginning of February to bother to log into your basketball league's website, you're going to pay for it, and I have. The good news is that I only need to have a team good enough to ride a hot streak the last three weeks of the season; it's a 6-team league and everyone gets into the playoffs. Even Jim Mora can't argue with those odds. Plus, my team is actually starting to show signs of life. Despite the absence of Paul Pierce and the fact the David West is still getting back into shape from his elbow surgery, I pulled off a 7-2 record last week, and I'm working on a 6-3 right now. In other words, the team's been the fantasy league equivalent of Greg Oden. Next week, we'll see what happens when I give my team its right hand back (although, since the replacement right hand comes in the form of one Jamal Crawford, I can't be too comfortable just yet).

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Wait, it's Super Bowl Week?

Some random ramblings about the Super Bowl, since I’ve been too much of a slacker to write about it until now:

1. Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami” will be heard at some point in the evening. (it’s a softball, I know, but I’m just getting warmed up)

2. Peyton Manning probably feels like he’s Matthew Broderick’s character in “Project X” with as many questions as he’s had to answer about monkeys lately.

3. We will hear some variation of “Cover 2” or “Tampa 2” approximately 563,492 times on Sunday.

4. I can’t remember the last time the cities of the Super Bowl teams were this close geographically. Since it’s the Super Bowl, it probably won’t impact the ratings much, but can you imagine how annoyed the TV networks would be if, say, the White Sox played the Brewers in the World Series?

5. Everyone kept comparing Tank Johnson to Ray Lewis on Media Day, but where was Johnson’s Shannon Sharpe? I think the lack of vocal team camaraderie will cause the Tank to come out flat instead of flattening Indy’s O-Line.

6. I’m perplexed by the Colts being favored by a touchdown. Wasn’t the media perpetually enamored with the Bears’ defense? Didn’t Manning and Tony Dungy always choke in big games? The “experts” are down on things they've always been high on and vice versa, and it’s confusing the heck out of me. I need Chris Collinsworth to explain this to me while Sharpe and Jerome Bettis fake laugh in the background.

7. I would make some reference to Edgerrin James’s free agency timing and the location of this year’s Super Bowl, but he knows what he did.

8. The media has heaped more coverage on poor Dallas Clark in three weeks than he’s gotten the entire rest of his career combined. This, of course, leads into a game against arguably the best defense in the league at stopping the tight end. Does the combination of jinxing and horrible circumstances lead to Clark breaking an ankle running out of the tunnel, or will the sheer amount of bad mojo cause it to reverse its polarity and pave the way for our first-ever Super Bowl MVP TE? Are you taking notes, CBS pregame show?

9. You know those commercials where Peyton cheers for regular people at their jobs? Well, given the level of talent disparity between him and his Bears counterpart, Rex Grossman, I think MasterCard had better have the cameras rolling for every Chicago possession.

10. Would you trust a therapist named “Bruiser”? How about a chef called “Slim”? Are you interested in getting in the car with a taxi driver who goes by “Squints”? Or….well, anyway, if you don’t see where I’m going with this, then you obviously aren’t paying attention.

I suppose I should make a prediction, right? I’ll go by the extremely scientific method of picking the team I want to win and then making two numbers up for the scores. We’ll say…Colts 24, Bears 13.