Archive for the ‘sports’ Category

Pac-10 laying an egg

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Not a good start for the Pac-10 in their bowl season.  After going undefeated last year, they’re winless so far.  I’m hoping USC doesn’t embarrass itself further this year with a loss to BC in the prestigious “Emerald” Bowl this week.  It’s in San Francisco — about as close to a home game as you’re going to get, short of either the Holiday Bowl (San Diego) or Las Vegas Bowl.  (Notice my lack of mention of the Rose Bowl — yeah, this team isn’t in that conversation).

Big 12 Championship

Friday, December 4th, 2009

go Nebraska.

(I can’t stand UT nor UT fans — seriously, if you live in New England and are below college age, you should not be wearing UT gear — and the amusement of watching the fallout from self-entitled UT fans getting denied a BCS championship berth would be delicious.  Also, Texas hasn’t played anyone & does not deserve a BCS championship berth any more than Cincinnati or Boise).

USC v UCLA redux

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

This year’s installment of the cross-town rivalry was a bit boring.  USC showed its 2009-signature lack of offense, again, scoring nothing until late in the 4th quarter.  It was USC’s defense that really won this game, scoring twice and holding that 14-7 lead until the offense finally broke through.  UCLA looked schizophrenic on offense, whereas USC was its 2009 ineffectual norm.

The boredom ended late in the game with 52 seconds left.  USC had the ball with a 21-7 lead, and attempted to run out the clock by having the (caretaker) quarterback take a knee.  This put UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel in a tough spot.  He’s got 3 timeouts left, which means that if he takes them all and stops USC, he can get at least one more possession.  This game in particular is important to both teams’ recruiting efforts in Southern California.  Many, many would-be recruits are at this game.  So, I get that UCLA can’t exactly just give up.  That said, I interpreted this as something of a dare from Rick Neuheisel.  I’ve heard the guy in interviews on Dan Patrick‘s radio show, and it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t like Pete Carroll.  If you just read what he says, it all reads as polite and professional.  But, hearing him makes it clear why UCLA was so comfortable putting Neuheisel’s mug on its “The football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over” billboards.

So, Neuheisel has painted himself into a corner.  He’s cultivated this persona of wanting to challenge/needle Pete Carroll, but I also think he likes it.  He calls time-out.  The crowd in the Coliseum rains down boos.  Pete Carroll is animated.  He takes Neuheisel’s dare and one ups him on the next play:  play-action fake, long pass down the field for a score.  The USC team is fired up, doing their (annoying, IMO) pre-game “fire-it-up” bounce thing.  Inexplicably, this is reported as “taunting”.  I watched the game.  This isn’t taunting.  That makes no sense.  Ever see a USC practice?  I have.  They do the same (annoying) thing.  Who are they taunting then?  Answer:  nobody, because it’s not taunting, you morons.  What some individual players did (making faces, etc) was taunting, but the press has reported this as some team-orchestrated taunting ritual, which just isn’t the case.  USC wasn’t the team that cleared its bench afterward & postured itself across midfield — that was UCLA.  Does it suck to have your rival beat you?  Yes it does.  I would know.  I was at USC when the eight year drought against UCLA was going on (and thankfully ended in 1999).  It happens.  UCLA ran up the score when they could.  That’s the nature of the rivalry.  But USC didn’t try to start a fight, and they didn’t whine about it afterward.  (Ok, actually, I did whine about it in 1996, when at the Rose Bowl, the UCLA fans cheered and celebrated when UCLA managed to injure USC quarterback Brad Otton, eventually leading to an overtime loss for USC after leading 38-17).  Rick Neuheisel actually seems to get that, since he’s not whining about it.  But, the UCLA fans should grow the hell up.  It didn’t particularly bother me when Stanford attempted to run up the score on USC this year, because I figure that over time, that’s just going to bite them in the rear — who is more likely to step on the other team’s throat in coming years?  Yeah, nice win this year, great team for Stanford, but that doesn’t bother me.  As a side note, I’ll take criticism from UCLA fans about “classlessness” approximately never.  Both teams have boorish fans, to be sure, but my opinion about the height of UCLA-fan classiness stems from an incident in 1996 (after the aforementioned overtime win for UCLA).  I watched some bratty UCLA fans actually push an older guy in USC regalia to the ground in the parking lot as he attempted to get in his car.  Seriously.  YOU JUST WON.  And yet, you’re pushing a geezer on the ground.  I’m sure that some drunken USC fan has done boorish crap before, too.  But don’t lecture me as though UCLA is some pinnacle of sportsmanship and good-natured competition, and that this incident somehow mars what is otherwise a high-brow affair.

Would I have preferred that Pete Carroll take the high road & rush the ball instead?  Yeah, definitely.  After all, this is supposedly “tailback U”.  But, USC’s definitely down this year (for them), and so I can’t entirely fault Pete Carroll for ripping one down the field when he saw the chance.  Despite his focus on defense, the dude likes offense (he’s commented about how it was “fun again” last year when Sanchez was throwing TDs left and right), and there hasn’t been any this year.  It was a gamble, but what really was on the line?  It’s not like this was the Rose Bowl and the national championship was at stake on a 4th-and-2 against UT.  (D’oh — still, that was statistically the right call).  I do hope that both teams cool down a bit before next year, however.

Football Roundup

Monday, September 28th, 2009

First, USC is still on a long road of recovery after sucking monumentally against Washington.  Yes, UW is a great story.  Even USC’s second string should have beaten a team that went winless last year.  (If you believe USC is a championship-caliber program, then the championship-caliber program’s backups should also be pretty darn good).  I’m still not sold on Matt Barkley (see:  USC offense’s inability to convert on 4th and goal — twice — against Washington State).  Still way too much inconsistency, and I think Barkley would have lost against Washington, too.  He threw some legitimately great passes in the 1st quarter and then proceeded to do nothing.  That said, Aaron Corp is a headcase, and god help the Trojans if they come to rely on him.  In his garbage-time playing in the 4th quarter, he managed to fumble.  Ouch.  Unless the offense takes a leap forward, I expect USC to lose at least one more game this year — possibly against UCLA.

Outside of the Pac-10, what an awesome win for the Houston Cougars.  I’m certainly no fan of Tortilla Tech (fun to watch, but I have personal experience with their annoying-ass fans), but it’s just great to see UH not suck.  Texas A&M, are you taking notes on how to be a decent team in Texas without UT’s recruits?  Also, UT — do.  not.  care.  While I’d love to see them lose quickly (OU — again?) to deflate the UT hype, there might be something satisfying about seeing them get pummeled by Florida or Alabama.

How about those Houston Texans?  Now, it’s nice to see Schaub being productive (he’s actually on my auto-drafted fantasy football team), but the defense is nothing short of awful.  That was the Jaguars.  The Jaguars!! Granted, the Texans got totally boned by the referees on the game-tying touchdown (ie, non-pass-interference by Kevin Walter in the endzone away from the play, when he was trying to run in traffic), but they also shouldn’t have given up 31 to the Jaguars.  Rated #1 in the AFC South, huh Sports Illustrated?  Thanks for getting my hopes up, again.

Caretaker Quarterbacks

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Last week’s USC-Ohio State game was dramatic at the end, even if it wasn’t particularly exciting to watch.  As a USC fan, it was also somewhat satisfying.  But, it also reminds me of the John David Booty season, and I’m expecting similar results.  That may change throughout the season, but right now, I’m expecting at least a couple of games where things either don’t click and another player can’t make it happen, or Barkley winds up getting rocked by a defense and the Trojans get blown out.  That said, as I watched the game with a friend of mine, some perspective is required here.  It’s kind of funny that USC fans (like me) are thinking of a “meh” season as 2 losses and a likely top-10 finish.  I was at USC in the late 90s, when USC never won more than 7 games in a season.  When Pete Carroll retires, it’ll be a national day of mourning for USC fans.

As for Matt Barkley, he may or may not become a great quarterback.  I hope he does.  Right now, he looks extremely shaky.  For almost the entire game, he simply could not make it happen, against a defense that was stacking against the run.  Ohio State basically dared Barkley to beat them, and for the most part, he couldn’t.  In the 4th quarter, he delivered some short passes to USC’s (outstanding, as always recently) WRs and RBs who turned them into good yardage.  That was great, and USC wound up winning a game they really shouldn’t have won (except for Jim Tressel’s overly conservative play-calling).  But, this was a long way off from Matt Leinart’s first start (as a sophomore) picking apart Auburn’s defense and leading the Trojans to a 23-0 win.  Granted, Leinart didn’t have gaudy numbers, but he did show something Matt Barkley hasn’t showed:  the ability to consistently complete the big pass on 3rd down, or to make a defense pay on a long play.  Matt Leinart did those things as a sophomore in his first start.  Hopefully Barkley will come along, but I think it’s unreasonable for us USC fans to be expecting that in his first season.  In short, we’re spoiled, and to paraphrase the warning from stock market companies, “past results to not indicate future successes”.  I think the media is far too convinced of Barkley’s awesomeness on the strength of just one drive (compared to 3 & 1/2 quarters of near absence) than they should be.

The start-of-the-season characterization of him as a “caretaker quarterback” is far more apt, until he proves otherwise.  USC’s last caretaker QB was John David Booty, who couldn’t get it done against a hapless UCLA team in a game that would’ve gotten USC to the BCS title game.  That’s not to say Booty was bad, nor that Barkley has been or will be.  But, a team with a caretaker QB is a world apart from having a Heisman winner like Palmer or Leinart, and expectations for this team should be set accordingly.

The eve of college football season

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

College football season is almost upon us, and man, am I excited.  This is clearly my most favorite sport.  Being a USC alum, I’m a big USC fan.  No doubt this year will bring another round of ridiculous BCS drama, but the excitement on the field is the best part.  More than any other sport, college football seems to combine the possibility of anything-can-happen with huge stakes.  (One loss, and you very well might be out of contention for the championship.  That said, a 4- or 6-team playoff at the end of the season would not change that).  I hear from friends back in Texas that the UT fans have already penciled them in for the BCS title game, and that Colt McCoy has already won the Heisman.  Obnoxious as always – it’s not even clear they’re the best team in their conference.

Speaking of conferences, I’m sure the SEC and Big 12 will be the media favorites for “toughest conference” yet again.  The SEC may have a legitimate point — the Big 12 pretty much never does.  Those teams always schedule nobodies out-of-conference (I’m sure UT will have quite the challenge against UL-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP, and UCF), start 6-0 or 5-1, and bunch up near the top of the rankings.  It happened last year with Oklahoma, UT, and Oklahoma State, and I’m predicting it will happen again.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The Big 12 looks like one of the best conferences in the country because they have inflated records.  Oh wow!  #4 Texas (who has played nobody) beat #6 Oklahoma (who also has played nobody)!  What an impressive top-10 win!

Apparently the trick is to ride your fat record and media campaign to a top-10 ranking, and then whine about being kept out of the BCS championship if pollsters have the temerity to see through your smoke screen.  (At least, that seems to be Mack Brown’s MO.  I was truly moved by his inspired attack on the legitimacy of the BCS system last year, after being utterly silent in 2004 when USC was locked out of the BCS title game despite being ranked #1 in both the AP and Coaches’ polls).  Kansas State perfected the inflated-record-to-undeserved-rankings system in the 90s, but the entire Big 12 seems to have adopted it, and it borders on collusion.  If all the teams do this, and several can manage to get ranked in the top-10, by the time they play each other they’re already in the discussion for the BCS title game.  But who knows, maybe the Big 12 teams can manage to do better than .500 in the bowls against other conferences this year.

Likewise, I’m looking forward to another year of USC being labeled the best team in the worst major conference.  Hey, at least they’re the best.  It’s the reason that USC was never seriously considered for the BCS title last year (whatever, after 2004, I know that any loss almost certainly disqualifies a Pac-10 team), and given the competition, I didn’t have a real complaint with that.  But here’s a little reminder for would-be Pac-10 detractors for 2009:  if your team played a Pac-10 team last year in a bowl game, they lost.

I’d like to think the 5-0 Pac-10 record during bowl season will win the prestige necessary to carry its teams to championship contention if things get tight, but in reality, I’m just most excited about the competition on the field.  I’m skeptical about USC’s true-freshman quarterback.  Recent history shows us that any time the USC QB’s job is described as “managing the game” and “being a caretaker”, they aren’t winning the championship (John David Booty comes to mind).  That, and the star receiver is injured & out for the first four games (that’s gonna hurt against Ohio State).  There are a huge number of questions this year, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of those answered Saturday.

The mythology of Brett Favre

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

I used to be a Brett Favre fan.  It was hard not to be — this guy could seemingly do anything in the 4th quarter with Green Bay in the late 90s.  Throughout that run, he was the iron man (who never missed a start) who would come out in near-zero temperatures and lead the Packers to victory.  That was his mythology.  But, I’m fed up with the press still buying into that despite all of the evidence to the contrary that he is, in fact, a selfish player who has no concept of “team” (in what is one of the ultimate team sports).  And after last night’s preseason game against the Texans, apparently he’s something else I didn’t think he could be:  a dirty player.

His recent prima donna routine has been tiresome and certainly did a lot to destroy his formerly stellar legacy.  The whole “will he retire/won’t he retire” BS got old the first three seasons he did it.  Green Bay got so tired of it that they eventually forced him out.  But instead of taking the hint that maybe he didn’t have a whole season in him anymore, he went to the Jets last year, played half of a season fairly well, and then proceeded to tank his team right out of playoff contention.  I get that he’s a competitor and needs that competition — it’s something people love about sports.  But, what he did was something more than that.  He made the game solely, and completely, for him.  And after that, the mythology of Brett Favre grew again.  He seemed to get that he might’ve pushed things too far, and he claimed to retire – again.

This summer, with ESPN parking Rachel Nichols in his home town, he went through the whole “will-he/won’t-he retire” bullshit again.  Like a petulant child, he said he was retiring (ie, quitting) when the Vikings told him he’d have to go to training camp to learn his new team’s offense.  (Favre is somewhat notorious for skipping training camp with Green Bay).  But, he went on Letterman & basically said “who knows” if he’d play if he “felt the itch” during the season.  In other words, it wasn’t over.  On major network TV in the largest media market in the world (the market of his former team), he goes on TV and tries to coyly claim “who knows”, and then bemoans the speculation of the media — the media that he most obviously is courting.

And this is where the mythology of Brett Favre is so frustrating.  The media (and he) portrays Brett Favre as this good ol’ country boy who just likes to play football and is just so horribly misunderstood throughout his dealings with teams.  In reality, he’s a selfish me-first guy who shopped for teams that would let him get away with skipping training camp and basically gets away with it for the sole reason of his (now-sporadic) ability to throw touchdowns.  Fine.  There are worse guys in the league, for sure — but let’s not pretend he’s some great guy.  He’s an all-time great talent past the peak of his career who happens to also be a selfish player, who pretends to be a folksy nice guy.  Pluses, minuses.  I can deal with that.

That brings us to last night.  Lining up at the WR position in a wildcat formation, Favre cracked back on the Houston Texans’ safety, Eugene Wilson.  That is, he delivered a purposely illegal hit on Wilson’s knee, who was injured and expressed relief that he could even walk after the game.  That type of hit is illegal because attacking the player blindly at the knees is notorious for incurring career-ending injuries.  And in this league, we’re talking about costing another guy several hundred thousand dollars, possibly millions.  Favre was flagged for the foul, and hopefully he will be fined.  (Let’s be clear — if that was a linebacker delivering the same hit on Favre, the linebacker would be fined and possibly suspended).  Even ESPN’s commentators, who incessantly and effusively mentioned Favre throughout the night, called the hit what it was:  dirty.  That doesn’t make Favre “a dirty player” by nature, necessarily.  He hasn’t been in the past.  But, Favre is not the mythology of his past, either.  Favre is what he is now.  And right now, he’s a player that will play through the 3rd quarter of a preseason game and take a career-ending shot at another player’s knees in a meaningless game.

Visit to the Kennedy Library

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I visited the John F. Kennedy Library yesterday.  I’ve got a friend in from out of town, which is always a great motivator for doing some of the touristy things in your own city that you never do in day-to-day life.  The library is smaller than I’d imagined, but very impressive.  We took about 3 hours go to through it.  I love history and especially historical artifacts, so seeing the notes with Kennedy’s handwriting and some of the recordings I’d not heard before was great.  Two of my favorite tidbits, which my astute friend pointed out, were in the “Moon Shot” portion of the museum.

One was on a draft of his famous speech he delivered at Rice University in Houston during which he set the goal for the United States to go to the moon by 1970.  The draft includes, typed,

Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?

Kennedy added a handwritten note above,

Why does Rice play Texas?

As a Rice (graduate) alum and vigorous UT football detractor, I’ve always found this line apropos and humorous.  It was neat to find out that Kennedy added it himself, and to see the note that added it.

The other interesting tidbit was that, despite all of Kennedy’s rhetorical flourishes calling for American scientific exploration, he flatly and openly told NASA administrators that he didn’t care about space.  He cared about beating the Russians.  He pointed out that it was fairly useless to spend $7 Billion to arrive at the moon 6 months after the Soviets, and if that was to be the outcome, he’d scale back NASA.  There’s tape of the NASA administrator (James Webb) pleading with exasperation that the US should explore space for the reasons Kennedy himself said in speeches (leadership in space sciences), and Kennedy basically says “that’s nice, but I’m in this to win against the Russians”.  Fascinating stuff.

NASCAR Pocono race rained out

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

The rainy summer struck again, this time down in Pennsylvania.  We’ve been getting an unreal amount of rain this summer in Boston, but basically the whole northeast has been hit.  This time it rained out the Pocono 500.  The race in New Hampshire a few weeks ago was also rain-shortened (Joey Lagano won as a result — good for him, but crappy for fans).  Way to kill my weekend, rain clouds!  Only 2 more weeks until the NFL preseason starts in full-swing…

I jinxed the Astros

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Okay, so I was all upbeat about the Astros & then I went to Vegas — and subsequently the shit hit the fan.  Well, not quite, but it’s not good.  The ‘stros turned in a poor performance in a series against the hapless Mets, and our ace, Roy Oswalt, left from the Cubs series with an injury.  (At least they won the game).  Setup-man LaTroy Hawkins is now out, too.  Oh, and all-star Lance Berkman (the Puma – rawr!) is still on the DL.  Wandy Rodriguez continues to impress this season, though.  I’m still hoping for the best.  (This is why we’re called “fans”).