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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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Choking with the Stars

July 27, 2011 1 comment

By: Aaron Watson

Bryant Gumbel was right. The USA women’s soccer team choked. And not just in the horrendous shootout that featured mistake after mistake by both United States shooters and keeper Hope Solo. The entire game was a series of unfortunate events, from poor defending on counter attacks and defensive miscommunication to shot after shot that missed the target.

But these women were media darlings. And criticizing them for losing in a World Cup Final just seemed unfair. This is soccer, after all, a sport where in the United States the men’s team gets hero status for barely beating Algeria in the World Cup and championed for defeating Panema 1-0 in the gold cup semi final. Only, of course, to be brought back to reality thanks to powerhouses like Ghana and Mexico.

Except that in women’s soccer, the United States was the top ranked team in the world. A team on the verge of winning more World Cups than any other country on the planet. A team with the world’s best goalkeeper and one of the most feared strikers not named Marta. And yet they lost.

To recount, here is what Gumbel said on HBO’s Real Sports, “Can we stop coddling women in sports? Are we now so fearful of being labeled sexist that we can’t objectively assess the efforts of female athletes? Had a men’s team turned in a similar performance, papers and pundits nationwide would have had a field day assailing the players, criticizing the coach, and demanding widespread changes to a men’s national team that flat out choked. Yet the common reaction to this ladies’ loss were simply expressions of empathy for the defeat of the unfortunate darlings and pride in their oh-so-heroic effort.”

Yet to me, the worst part isn’t that the women aren’t taking flak for their multiple mistakes during the World Cup Final loss to Japan. It’s that they are being celebrated for their great effort and almost applauded for trying so hard in their loss to a clearly inferior opponent that had never come close to defeating them and had previously lost in two pre-Word Cup exhibitions.

Poor LeBron James gets just lambasted by every major media outlet after slumping in the NBA finals, but no such criticism for the great Hope Solo or Abby Wambach, who couldn’t stop the Japanese from fighting their way back time after time in the biggest game of their lives. They were bigger, faster, stronger and simply better than their opponent, and yet they lost the game. That’s called choking, folks, and we shouldn’t coddle them for turning in a “great all-around performance”. The object is to score and stop the other team from scoring, and they lost that battle no matter how “pretty” and “skilled” they looked in losing.

And I don’t say any of this to discredit what the Japanese did, which was heroic and emotionally charged. But when goliath is slain, doesn’t the giant have to take some criticism? The Giants win over the undefeated Patriots in Superbowl XLII earned Brady and Belichick plenty of negative press. You think the Russians went home and walked the red carpet after losing to Team USA during the 1980 Winter Olympics? And we all remember what happened to Michigan in 2007 when Appalachian State came in and shocked their division one athletes.

But when you’re the best in the world and favored to win the game by every media outlet in the world, shouldn’t the word “choke” come into play? According to Hope Solo, “…we played our best game. We were attacking, we had opportunities on the goal, we played beautiful soccer, like the game is meant to be played, in the final. So did we choke? We played a beautiful game. We played our best game. But we didn’t come out on top. I don’t think we choked at all.”

Yes, Hope, you did. That’s what it’s called when you lose a game you are supposed to win and that you should have won. You see, it’s not just that they lost to a team that played them tough. They lost to a team they outshot, outjumped and outplayed for over 120 minutes. And credit to Gumbel for coming out and saying it, instead of setting up another red carpet event for beautiful women who just couldn’t get it down in the end.

Anna Kournikova, anyone?

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.