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Archive for August, 2011

The Sampler Platter: Texas A&M, Jim Thome, and the Dallas Cowboys

August 26, 2011 1 comment

By: Nate Douglas

He who gets embarrassed last…
If Texas A&M’s color wasn’t already maroon, it would be, as they were embarrassed after the events from a week ago.  After publicly claiming they wanted to join the SEC, they were rejected like Dwight Howard swatting a teardrop floater.  Longhorn fans got a good kick out of it, I’m sure.  But when all is said and done, Texas A&M will get the last laugh.

The “Big 12” is falling apart like the little piggy’s house of straw.  Nebraska and Colorado have already jumped ship, and nobody would put it past Missouri or Baylor to join them over the next year or so.  Texas, sporting their new $400 million Longhorn Network deal with ESPN, tightened its grip as the top dog in the conference.   Texas was already without a doubt a sexier school than A&M, and had a  significant edge in  recruiting.  So Texas A&M  finally said, “We don’t have to play with  them.  We  can go get some money and players elsewhere!” So  where  else, but the SEC (also known as the middle-  class man’s NFL)?  The SEC  has the largest major  network television deals and attracts the best    recruits.  Now that’s a peach cobbler that Texas  A&M would do well to  take a large piece of.  Yes,  A&M will most likely be eaten alive the first  few  years in the SEC.  But now Texas recruits have the  choice to chose  between the school with their own  television network (attractive) or a  school in the  best conference against the best teams with the  best  players (more attractive).  The decision just  got a lot harder.  Texas  A&M will eventually  become competitive in the SEC as they attract    more players.

Not many writers, however, are questioning the  Longhorn’s future in this story.  The Aggies will  inevitably join the SEC, few experts doubt that.    This leaves ESPN in a difficult spot, as their  product would become less valuable.  If Texas  A&M, and potentially Oklahoma, leave the party,  the Longhorns will have nobody to dance with, and  they will be the ones looking embarrassed with a  darker shade of maroon.

The Wrong Wardrobe
This year in baseball, we have witnessed two major career feats in Derek Jeter and Jim Thome.  Derek Jeter reached 3,000 hits, and Jim Thome slugged his 600th home run, both quite impressive and hall of fame worthy.  Jeter, however, undoubtedly benefited from more publicity, which is a shame, as Thome’s accomplishment is much more impressive.  Thome’s crime?  He doesn’t wear pinstripes.  Derek Jeter was the 28th player in MLB to reach 3,000 hits.  Jim Thome was just the 8th to crack the 600 home run threshold (including known steroid users such as McGwire and Sosa).  You would not have known this watching SportsCenter.  Instead, writers said Thome’s accomplishment is somewhat tainted by steroids.  Excuse me, but Jeter hits home runs, and line drives into the gaps and alleys  Steroids would be just as beneficial for his game.  But nobody would dare mention steroids when Jeter hit 3,000.  Now nobody thinks Jeter or Thome were shooting PEDs.  As far as we know, they’re as clean as the Downy teddy bear. The credit, however, should go where it’s due; Thome should get more airtime and accolades than Jeter.  It’s a shame the sports media, led by ESPN, would rather make the news than report it.

Easy Does It
I have a friendly exhortation for my Cowboy friends, most of whom not only aspire for the playoffs and Super Bowl this year, but think they are very achievable and realistic goals.  I just wanted to stay, “Woah, partner.  Let’s pull the reins in a little bit.”  Here’s why:

1) Jerry Jones has only won one playoff game in the last 15 years.  That’s a bad precedent to think would all of a sudden disappear.  The Cowboys haven’t proved anything, so it would be unreasonable to expect they would prove much this year.  The Dallas Mavericks had a much more consistent and successful track record over the last decade, yet few expected them to win the championship even after the first round of the playoffs this year.  To think the Cowboys will clean house when they can’t even regularly make the playoffs is over the top.

2) The Dallas Cowboys defense was the worst in Cowboy history last year.  That says a lot.  What says more is the fact that all of the same players are back.  There is no massive defensive team overhaul.  In fact, there was no massive team overhaul at all.  There were no major impact acquisitions during the offseason.  To think only swapping out the defensive coordinator will be the miracle cure is wishful thinking.

3) Having a “healthy” squad this year after last year’s injuries won’t make that much of a difference.  The Cowboys were in the doldrums before Tony Romo was hurt.  On the other hand, the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers were bit by the injury bug worse than anyone, yet that didn’t faze them and they didn’t make excuses. Injuries will happen again this year, but the Cowboys are not well-equipped to deal with them.  Yes, Dez Bryant is a beast.  But with his injury history, one would not be surprised if he had to miss a few games, which would be devastating for the offense.  As it stands, the Cowboys don’t even know who their third receiver is, much less who the second would be if the terror of the NorthPark Mall got hurt.   The Cowboys have the star power that is not questioned.  But they’re top-heavy.

4) In order to make the playoffs, you have to be better than the other teams in your division.  The Eagles improved drastically and the Giants have the majority of a squad returning that won 10 games last year.  The Cowboys also have teams like the Packers, Bears, Lions, Falcons, Saints, and Bucs to compete with for the wild card.  I’m sorry, but I’m going with the field.

Not to be a gloomy cloud over the Dallas picnic, but Cowboy fans, please, let’s tamper expectations here.  Players may step up, and good coaching is was what this team needed.  But until that happens, you’re not helping your national reputation as fans when you publicly exude Super Bowl-bound confidence (but don’t worry, you’re still not as bad as Eagles fans).

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and son (whom he is 17-0 against in living-room wrestling…never mind if his son is a toddlerweight).  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  He has yet to come off his Dallas Mavericks championship-high, and he prays daily for those last couple World Series wins for his beloved Rangers, and that his children will never know a day where they weren’t fans of his favorite teams.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34.  

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Everybody play nice!

August 24, 2011 Leave a comment

How rule changes are hurting the game of football

By: Aaron Watson

The NFL is at it again this season. To protect the health of players the NFL has fundamentally changed the way the game is played on the field. Rules adopted to protect defenseless players, to define acceptable contact, and to limit collisions on kickoff returns have all been enacted to preserve the health of players. And mainly to protect offensive skill players. You know, the ones who are the face of the league. The cash cows, as it were.

The question is no longer whether or not the NFL is trying to make the game softer. They are, even if they don’t phrase it  that way in a nationwide press release. We already have quarterbacks  treated differently than any other players on the field. You can’t tackle  them low. You can’t tackle them high. And if you’re Ndamukong Suh,  you can’t push them down from behind either.

Receivers were added to the fold last year as protected players, with  defenders no longer able to touch them above the shoulders until they  can defend themselves (and even then you better not get close to their  helmet when making the tackle, even as they lower their heads to brace  for impact or dive head first towards the endzone!).

Returners and members of the kickoff and return team are the newest  group added to the “protected” group, although they are being  protected against their will. Due to gruesome injuries sustained over the  last few years both in college and the NFL, league officials have moved  the kicking team up 5 yards and made touchback percentages shoot  higher than Tom Brady’s completion percentage.

No, the question isn’t whether or not the NFL is going soft, the question is whether or not it is worth it. And in my mind, the answer should be a resounding no.

The fact is you can’t legislate injuries out of a collision sport without changing the sport. And little by little, that is what the NFL is doing.

Let’s be clear, I think spearing and launching your body head first at a receiver is a bad idea, and should be eliminated from the game. Deliberate helmet to helmet contact like that has no place in football. But having a defender penalized and fined for hitting a receiver with his shoulder pad is just ridiculous, no matter where he hits them.

Take this hit by James Harrison. In the replay the receiver is hit in the helmet with the shoulder of the defender, dislodging the ball and creating a positive play for the defense. The receiver also can be seen lowering his head to brace for the hit, which in essence leads to the contact to the head to begin with. As ferocious as this hit is, it shouldn’t be illegal.

In this instance, another problem can be found with the new set of rules. On the play, RB Willis McGahee appears to lower and turn his head after safety Ryan Clark has already turned his body low for the hit. Their helmets collide, but it is the action of McGahee that causes that contact, not the hitting position of Clark. Luckily the NFL got this one right and didn’t fine Clark, but that is a rarity.

Or this hit once again by NFL bad boy James Harrison. Josh Cribbs is clearly a runner and hasn’t been tackled when the Steelers linebacker plows through him with his helmet. Now before I continue, please understand that the head is connected to the shoulders via the neck, and there is no human way to eliminate the head from potentially making contact with a player. Proper tackling form is to put your head on the ball or on one side of the ball carriers body while driving through him with your shoulder pad. This works great when the running back doesn’t move! Unfortunately for Harrison, Cribbs is spun around and has his head lowered as the tackle is being made.

A similar play occurs in this video. The difference being that the back is 260 pounds and the defender just bounces off him. But apparently we need not protect defenders, only skill position players who get lit up or quarterbacks who make all the money.

In essence, the NFL seems content to change the nature of the game to protect their investment by keeping players healthy, even at the expense of the competitive nature of the game. Kickoffs have essentially been rendered useless and will soon be seen as comparable in boringness to the riveting extra point attempt. It turns out watching a player take a knee isn’t compelling entertainment.

More specifically, the rule changes seem to indicate that the NFL is simply asking players to play nice; to respect one another enough to not hit as hard or be as violent. And while that might reduce injuries as players are fined and suspended until they change their nature, it destroys the purity of the game by reducing the competitive fire and fearsome antics that makes certain players great.

Defenders like Ronnie Lott, Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Dick Butkis and Mike Singletary used fear and intimidation to impact the psyche of players even considering getting in front of them. It helped make them great and it helped make the game great.

And now to baby quarterbacks and receivers like the NFL does is slowly destroying how the game is respected. It’s not destroying interest, mind you, and that is why fans can and should expect a watered down product that caters to health more than competition.

And before you start telling me I sound obsessed with violence, please remember I didn’t invent the sport where the goal is to separate player from ball. But if you are going to create a sport where players are rewarded for knocking the ball out of the hands of the other player, then you should understand when fans get upset when their team is penalized for hitting hard. This isn’t ultimate Frisbee.

Aaron Watson saw his NFL career cut short when his pee wee coaches informed him he wasn’t very good. So he turned his attention to writing, studying journalism in college while blogging for several sporting blogs since 2005. He and his wife currently live in Richmond, VA, one of the worst sports towns in America despite the short lived hype during the Final Four. When he is not at the local sports bar pursuading the owners to put the Buccaneer or Gator game on the big screen, Aaron serves as the Director of Staff Development for TeenPact Leadership Schools, a non-profit training teens to impact their nation through government, business and ultimate frisbee. He has also stayed in Tim Tebow’s house.

Sign Stealing in Toronto, Logan Morrison, Umpires

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Aaron Booth

About a week ago, Amy K. Nelson of ESPN wrote an article exposing an elaborate sign stealing scheme the Blue Jays were using at the Rogers Centre. Assuming the report is true, the Blue Jays crossed one of many unwritten rules of the game. I’m not big on these unwritten rules, but as a long-time baseball fan I can’t deny that “everybody” knows that it’s unacceptable for teams to use sign stealing tactics outside the lines.

Also, assuming it’s true, it seems pretty wild that observer X could read the sign, relay it to white T-shirt guy, who can then send the signal to the batter, who will have enough time to see the sign and adjust accordingly, all in the time that elapses between the catcher giving the sign and the pitcher throwing the ball.  Seems like an awful lot to do in one second, but that’s okay. Let’s just assume that all of it is true and the Blue Jays are twice as good as a result. I have a suggestion for the other teams in baseball that don’t like sign stealing: use better signs.

I know this seems like a simplistic solution, but think about it: what is a sign in the first place? A sign is an attempt for players to communicate information they would prefer to be private, but they have to do it in a public setting. For those who don’t know the signs, the sign somewhere between an unknown mystery to completely unnoticed. For those who know the signs, it is the equivalent of shouting, “Hey, throw him fastball, in.”  If the guy who does not know the sign learns the sign, the other guy has to decide to either accept the fact that the signs are known or decide if it is important to maintain secrecy and change the sign. When I was a toddler, my parents would spell things to each other when they wanted to discuss a topic in my presence and still keep me from knowing what was going on. When I got older, they switched to Pig Latin. When I figured that out they left room. This is the same thing. If the opponent knows the sign, change the signs.

Obviously some teams have alternate sets of signs they use at different times, especially when there is a runner on second base. That’s great. The problem is that they go back to the standard signs the rest of the time. Why should there be such a thing as “standard signs?” Everybody in baseball knows what it means to “give ‘em the ol’ #1.” Ridiculous. If Joe Blow in the stands can accurately read the signs with a pair of binoculars the team deserves what they get.

On another note, the Florida Marlins have to be the absolute worst organization in MLB. I can’t think of another team where the owner and front office could possibly be more clueless. The recent release of Wes Helms in conjunction with the demotion of Logan Morrison is lunacy. Seth Everett of “Stayin’ Hot w/Seth & Bone” gave a fantastic rant about it on their 8/15 episode.

Two Quick Thoughts on Umpires:

1)      Does umpire Rob Drake have a background in pro wrestling? In the scuffle with Yadier Molina a little over a week ago, Drake flopped like an international soccer player when a little bit of spittle came out of Molina’s mouth. Does Molina spit acid or something?

2)      This is older, but remember umpire Joe West? Cowboy Joe West? In 2010 he got some attention for some quick ejections to Ozzie Guillen and Mark Buehrle and the stole headlines a few weeks later for criticizing the pace of a Yankees/Red Sox game. He’s also frequently near the top of the worst umpires list from annual player polls. Good umpires are supposed to be invisible. This guy is the opposite. He has a nickname! A nickname people know! In fact, he even has his own website: www.cowboyjoewest.com. Hilarious.

Aaron Booth lives in Monroe, LA with his wife a five children. He makes his living in the real estate world, which gives him the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio, including a fair amount of sports radio and podcasts. Aaron loves his i-devices and 24-hour sports media, but also fondly remembers the days when he calculated his fantasy standings from the newspaper. You can follow him on twitter @da_booth.

The Superstar Backup: Should Kyle Orton start over Tim Tebow?

August 13, 2011 1 comment

By: Aaron Watson

 

The Denver Broncos have a bit of a problem on their hands. Tim Tebow isn’t practicing well. Or playing well in team scrimmages. And not just compared to starter Kyle Orton, who according to team sources has been light years ahead of the former Heisman trophy winner in training camp. No, Tebow seems to be in a legitimate battle with former first round pick Brady Quinn for the #2 spot on the roster.

But don’t tell that to the fans, who are clamoring to see the legend of Tebow grow as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. And therein lies the problem.

 

Team owners and new coach John Fox just don’t seem convinced that Tebow can be an effective quarterback in this league. But the fans aren’t interested in another losing season with Kyle Orton at the helm throwing for tons of yardage in the fourth quarter when the game is already out of reach. They want a franchise player who can bring back the glory days of John Elway.

 

And they think Tebow is that player.

 

And if the Broncos don’t let him prove that, they are making a huge mistake.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not convinced Superman is an elite QB prospect. Coming out of college I questioned his anticipation, accuracy and timing, and I’ve seen nothing in the last year that leads me to believe he has corrected those weaknesses. However, by leaving an icon on the bench in favor of a journeyman who just hasn’t won games, the team is hijacking their long-term future by not letting the Tebow experiment play out. Allow me to explain.

 

Either Tebow can play or he can’t. But you don’t find that out by having him ride the pine. And I guarantee you the fans, who have bought hook line and sinker into Tebowmania, won’t be satisfied with having their Savior on the bench. Even if Orton wins 8 games, the guys in the stands will say Timmy would have won 12. And news flash to those in the front office: those are the folks who pay the bills. Those are the folks who made a rookie’s jersey the most popular item the NFL store carried. Who made a preseason debut one of the most watched games in NFL preseason history. And who seem willing to fill the stands to watch him play regardless of the scoreboard.

 

Make no mistake about it; if the guy can’t play, then cut him or trade him. A franchise should never play a guy who keeps losing just because the fans like him. But this franchise is being hijacked by the hype, and that needs to stop. Putting Tebow on the field and letting him sink or swim is the only way to satisfy a fan base starving for excitement.

 

Let’s face it, Kyle Orton may be a more polished player, but does anyone really think he is a franchise QB? The Bears didn’t, so they let him leave after four years. And after two futile years in Denver, it is apparent that he is simply an average player. So why hitch your future to that wagon? The last team to win a Superbowl with an average QB was Tampa Bay in 2003, who had one of the greatest defenses of the decade, and who fell apart the following seven years. This is a passing league that demands great QB play for a team to be successful.

 

And who knows… maybe Tebow will reinvent the way the game is played. Or maybe he will put the Broncos in the driver’s seat for superprospect Andrew Luck.

 

Neither of those options sound bad to me.

Aaron Watson saw his NFL career cut short when his pee wee coaches informed him he wasn’t very good. So he turned his attention to writing, studying journalism in college while blogging for several sporting blogs since 2005. He and his wife currently live in Richmond, VA, one of the worst sports towns in America despite the short lived hype during the Final Four. When he is not at the local sports bar pursuading the owners to put the Buccaneer or Gator game on the big screen, Aaron serves as the Director of Staff Development for TeenPact Leadership Schools, a non-profit training teens to impact their nation through government, business and ultimate frisbee. He has also stayed in Tim Tebow’s house.