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New York Yankees: Poetic Justice for Jackie Robinson

In Sports on April 17, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Robinson Cano Mariano Rivera Jackie Robinson

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  This landmark day happened during a time when many felt justified to judge people by what they were instead of who they were.   On the 66th anniversary of Robinson’s historical day, every player in Major League Baseball wore the number 42 to commemorate the occasion, just as they’ve done on every anniversary since 2004.

This year’s celebration of Robinson’s anniversary was marred by the tragic terrorist bombing in Boston by an as yet unknown source.  Regardless of who was responsible for this act of cowardice, it is a virtual certainty that the bombing was carried out by a person or group that has no tolerance for people who don’t share their irrational beliefs.  It just goes to show that no matter how far we think that we have come as a society, the fact remains that there are people out there who are just as ignorant and hateful as those who believed that black baseball players had no place in Major League Baseball in the 1940’s.

The two most prominent connections to Robinson in baseball today are on the New York Yankees.  Robinson Cano was named after (Jackie) Robinson, and wears the number 24 (42 backwards).  Fellow Yankee, Mariano Rivera, is the last player to ever wear the number 42.

The Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks were off on Monday, so they all wore the number 42 in last night’s game, a day after the anniversary that will always be known for the events that took place at the Boston Marathon.

With pitcher, Ivan Nova, struggling early, the Diamondbacks took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning; it looked like it might be a long night for the Yankees at that point.

After the third inning was completed, the Yankees and their fans showed their support for the people of Boston by playing “Sweet Caroline” – a time-honored tradition that has taken place at all Red Sox home games since the late 1990’s.  The bitter rivalry between the two cities was forgotten for at least one night in favor of the bond that we all share as Americans.

The tribute to the people of Boston, combined with the inspiration of Jackie Robinson seemed to lift the Yankees in the fourth inning.  Nova gave up a leadoff double, but eventually settled down, retired the side and held the Diamondbacks scoreless.  In the bottom half of the fourth, with two men on, Cano blasted a 426 foot home run, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

Kevin Youkilis scored on a sacrifice fly by Eduardo Nunez in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead on the night that every player was wearing the number 42.  It was fitting that the fourth run was scored by a former Red Sox player and fan favorite of the people of Boston.

As they have done since 1995, the Yankees called upon Rivera to preserve the victory.  Rivera’s appearance was extra special last night given the fact that he is retiring at the end of the season, and he is the last player ever to wear the number 42 in the Major Leagues.

Rivera retired the side with a strikeout, a pop-up and a ground out, sealing the 4-2 symbolic victory for the Yankees, and giving poetic justice to the anniversary celebration of Robinson that was otherwise tarnished by the terrorist attack that occurred at the Boston Marathon a day earlier.

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2013 NBA Slam Dunk Contest – An Epic Failure by the NBA and TNT

In Sports on February 17, 2013 at 11:11 am

Terrence Ross Slam Dunk

Remember the days when the NBA Slam Dunk Contest featured the stars of the game?  Those days are seemingly over, but if the NBA wants to make the contest relevant again, they better do something to get actual stars to compete in the All-Star Weekend competition that people look forward to the most.  After the competition was over, Kenny Smith talked about how the contestants were great dunkers, but that they were nervous.  To which Charles Barkley replied…“The reason those guys were nervous…they actually got in the game.” 

Get the hint NBA?  No one wants to watch relative unknowns dunking, no matter how good they might be.

Of course, if you live on the East Coast, you may not have heard the post-game analysis because it ended at a ridiculously late hour thanks to TNT’s attempt at prime time scheduling.  Anyone who planned on watching the competition on their DVR better have recorded “Sir Charles at 50” because that is where the final dunks and the announcement of the winner took place.

TNT may do a great job of covering the NBA during the regular season, and even the playoffs, but their coverage of the Slam Dunk Contest was abysmal.  It started much too late on the East Coast and there was a lot of unnecessary filler.  Aside from the friends and family of Fall Out Boy, does TNT really believe that any basketball fan tuned in to see their awful musical performance?  Was it really necessary to delay the Slam Dunk Contest further to squeeze that in?

Nick Cannon may have some talent, but his innocuous questions in the middle of the competition did nothing to add to the coverage. In fact, it made it worse.  If he had asked a meaningful question, the audience at home wouldn’t have heard the response because the audio quality was terrible, and Cannon’s microphone work was shoddy at best anyway.

With LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant and the like watching in street clothes, NBA fans were treated to Eric Bledsoe, Kenneth Faried, Jeremy Evans, Gerald Green, James White and the winner of the competition, Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors. Of the six contestants, only Faried is an NBA starter.  In retrospect, perhaps TNT scheduled the event so late in the evening so that they had scapegoat for poor ratings.

There were some impressive dunks in the competition, but nothing that will ever be remembered years from now, or even talked about by basketball fans by the time that they return to work this week, especially those who have off for President’s Day.  At one point in the competition, Shaquille O’Neal jokingly called Ross “what’s his name” to get under Barkley’s skin because the “round mound of rebound” was clearly disgusted with the lack of star power in this year’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

The lack of star power was not the only problem with the Slam Dunk Contest.  The format is absolutely absurd.  It’s doubtful that there is a single NBA fan that cared about the East vs. West competition.  The NBA got lucky that two of the better dunkers were on opposite teams, but if there had been two dominant players on one side, it would have been a travesty to have only one of them advance to the finals because of some arbitrary, dumb format.

If the NBA and TNT cannot figure out a way to get the stars into the competition, they might as well cancel it, especially if they are going to show it so late in the evening.  The competition – which was once the highlight of NBA All-Star Weekend – is quickly becoming as relevant as the NFL Pro Bowl.  If the true NBA stars care about this competition, they need to step up and participate, and put the back-ups back on the bench where they belong.

The Bizarre National Signing Day Story of Alex Collins and his Mother

In Life, Sports on February 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Alex Collins

Imagine being one of the top high school running backs in the country.  Imagine having your choice of full scholarship offers from top college football programs to choose from, but on National Signing Day, your mother disappears with your letter of intent, leaving your college football career in limbo.  If you are Alex Collins from South Plantation, FL, you don’t have to imagine this scenario, because he is living it.  And though he finally was able to get his father to sign the letter of intent to allow him to become an Arkansas Razorback, this bizarre story still continues.

It is not unusual for parents to want to be close to their children, even after they have graduated high school.  Every parent can appreciate what it would be like to be separated from their children. Parents can also appreciate that they think that they know what is best for their children, but that is not always the case.  And even if it were true, sometimes children need the freedom to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes.

Alex Collins made a verbal commitment to attend the University of Miami and play for the Hurricanes, but in November, he re-opened his commitment because he fell in love with the University of Arkansas and its campus.  It happens.

The world may look at these recruits as football commodities, but they are still high school kids who are prone to indecision and bad decisions.  Anyone who needs further proof of this need look no further than Reuben Foster, one of the top recruits in the country.

When Foster, a Georgia native, made a verbal commitment to become an Auburn Tiger, he moved to Auburn, AL.  Getting caught up in the excitement, Foster got an Auburn logo tattooed on his arm for the world to see.  Undoubtedly, Foster is regretting his decision, given the fact that he did a total one eighty and decided to sign with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn’s bitter in-state rival.  Collins may have had a change of heart, but at least he doesn’t have a permanent reminder of his first choice tattooed on his body.

Unfortunately for Collins, his mother, Andrea McDonald – in her attempt to keep him close to home – has turned one of the most important days of his life into a national embarrassment, and a story that is not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.

Even though Collins’ father, Johnny, signed the National Letter of Intent, and faxed it back to the University of Arkansas, this bizarre story continues.

Rather than just accept the fact that her son is going to attend college in Arkansas, McDonald has hired Cochran Firm (founded by Johnnie Cochran) to “represent the family’s interests.”  Sadly, the only interests being represented by this latest development are those of McDonald, an overbearing, albeit loving mother, who simply cannot accept the fact that her son has made the decision that he feels is best for him.

Perhaps the time has come to allow those who are at least eighteen years of age to make their own decisions without a parent’s signature.  If they are old enough to vote and be drafted, they should have a say in what school they attend on a scholarship.

Ironically, the 18-yr old Collins is taking this all in stride, which only goes to show that he is mature enough to make this decision for himself.  Rather than getting justifiably upset with his mother, Collins simply stated…

“She cares about me so much, she doesn’t want me to make the wrong decision.”

Top 5 Super Bowl Commercials of 2013

In Sports, Television on February 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Babyland - Kia

In the world of DVR’s and on-demand programming, there is only one day each year when viewers don’t look to skip over commercials.  There is seemingly no time to take a bathroom break during the Super Bowl because no one wants to miss the commercials that we all try to avoid during the rest of the year.   With an average price of around $3.8 million for a 30-second spot, you would think that advertisers would do whatever it takes to put their best foot forward.  This year, only a handful of advertisers hit the mark with their Super Bowl commercials, while most of the others were forgettable at best.

 

Here are the Top 5 Super Bowl commercials of 2013…

 

[1]  KIA – Space Babies

Every parent dreads hearing the inevitable question from young children… “Where do babies come from?”  After this year’s Super Bowl, it’s safe to say that many parents will use Kia’s “babylandia” explanation…

 

[2]  Doritos – Fashionista Daddy

Just as much as parents don’t want to explain where babies come from, most dads have no interest in playing princess, no matter how much they love their daughters.  Of course, with a little incentive…

 

[3]  NFL Network – Deion Sanders (a/k/a – Leon Sandcastle)

Not your ordinary Super Bowl commercial.  NFL Network’s entertaining way to get people to tune in for the upcoming combine coverage in February will have more appeal to true football fans than to those who only watch football one day a year…

 

[4]  M&M’s – Love Ballad

M&M’s Super Bowl commercials are always entertaining.  The latest, featuring Meat Loaf’s “Anything For Love” is not as funny as the 2012 naked M&M’s in a club, but it was creative enough to stand out as one of the best of the year…


 

[5]  Budweiser – Clydesdales

Anyone who has watched the Super Bowl in previous years is certainly familiar with Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdales.  This commercial, which tugs on the heartstrings with Steve Nicks’ “Landslide” playing in the background, is a sort of prequel to all of Budweiser’s previous commercials…

Super Bowl XLVII: Baltimore Ravens Send Ray Lewis Out on Top…Hollywood Style

In Sports on February 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Ray Lewis Lombardi Trophy

If the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl run was written as a Hollywood script, it may have been sent back to the writers asking them to make it seem more realistic.   What happened last night in Super Bowl XLVII at the Superdome in New Orleans is as improbable as any sports championship that any of us will likely experience in our lifetimes.  The word “destiny” is often used, but the Ravens’ journey to Super Bowl glory may be proof positive that it actually exists in sports, and may also be the reason that Ray Lewis got to end his illustrious 17-year career on the ultimate high note.

When Lewis tore his triceps in the middle of the year, it looked like his season was going to be over.  The usual recovery time for injuries like this would have given Lewis no chance to return, even if the Ravens made it to the playoffs.  But Lewis was determined to make it back, and convinced the Ravens not to place him on injured reserve.  At the time, no one but Lewis and his family knew that he was planning on retiring at the end of the season.

Wearing a cumbersome arm brace, Lewis made good on his promise and returned for the Wildcard game against the Indianapolis Colts, physically limited, but determined to carry his team to the Super Bowl.  Despite his limitations, he led his team to a victory over his former defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, who also had an improbable return to the sidelines after an in-season battle with Leukemia.  The home crowd erupted when Lewis did his famous dance one last time on his final play at M & T Stadium.  It was a tremendous sendoff to the man who has meant so much to the organization.

The victory over the Colts meant that the Ravens would go on the road to face Peyton Manning, and the top-seeded Denver Broncos.  The Broncos, who were riding an 11-game winning streak into the playoffs, had only lost one game at home all season long.  The Ravens were 4-4 on the road, and more importantly, they had lost 4 out of the last 5 games of the season, including a 34-17 home loss to the Broncos.

In recent years, it has been proven time and again that the best NFL team doesn’t always win the Super Bowl.  Often times, the hottest team is the one that ends up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.  The Broncos were the hottest team coming into the playoffs, and the Ravens were the coldest.  Most people, including diehard Ravens fans, realized that the odds of Lewis making it to the Super Bowl by beating the red-hot Broncos on the road, was a longshot at best.

The Ravens played the Broncos much tougher than most people expected.  It was a back and forth game that left the Ravens season hanging by a thread as they trailed by a touchdown with less than a minute to play.  On third down and three from their own 30-yard line, and only 31 seconds left in the game, Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones – who somehow managed to get behind the Broncos defense – with a 70-yard bomb for a touchdown.  The team with no hope was suddenly looking like a team of destiny once again as they tied the game.  The Broncos were in such shock by the turn of events, that they didn’t even let Manning attempt to try and move them into field goal range to win the game in regulation.  They simply took a knee and headed to overtime.

Neither team was able to score in the first overtime, but then opportunity knocked for the Ravens early in the second overtime when Manning threw the type of pass that you expect from gunslinger quarterbacks, across his body, while rolling to the right.  The pass had no velocity on it, and was easily intercepted.  Five plays later, Raven’s rookie kicker, Justin Tucker, nailed a 47-yard game winning field goal, and the team of destiny was headed back on the road to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a re-match of last year’s heartbreaking AFC Championship Game.

Beating the inexperienced Colts at home wasn’t surprising, but beating the Broncos on the road in such incredible fashion was more than anyone realistically expected from the Ravens.  Could an aging Ravens defense possibly go into Foxboro, MA and shut down Brady and the Patriots?  The odds were heavily stacked against them.  After all, the Patriots had only lost one game at home all season long, and had won 9 of the last 10 games of the regular season.  If that wasn’t daunting enough, the Patriots were relatively fresh, while the Ravens defense had played 87 plays against the Colts and 87 plays against the Broncos in the thin Denver air.

Old and tired is not usually a recipe for success against the Patriots high-powered offense, but somehow, some way, the Ravens defense, having played a combined 174 plays in the two weeks prior to the Patriots game, were able to travel to Foxboro on a cold winter’s night and make Brady look ordinary.  Heavy underdogs once again, the Ravens dominated in a 28-13 victory that sent them to the Super Bowl for the second time in team history.

In true Hollywood fashion, the script writers made sure that Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco Forty Niners would overcome a huge deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons and end up as the opponent to John Harbaugh’s Ravens in what many dubbed the “HarBowl.”   This brother vs. brother matchup almost happened last year, but both the Ravens and Niners found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in their respective championship games with heartbreaking losses.

The Ravens overcame adversity and proved their detractors wrong throughout the playoffs, so why should the Super Bowl be any different?

Often times, media day brings out some controversy during Super Bowl week.  However, under the Harbaugh brothers’ guidance, neither team was likely to have anyone say anything inflammatory to provide bulletin board material to the other team.  But that didn’t stop an outsider from trying to leverage the Super Bowl media hype to stir up controversy and promote his own agenda.

To a man, everyone who has ever been around Lewis looks at him as a leader who works as hard as any other player in the game to stay in shape.  And while his recovery from torn triceps seemed miraculous, it’s hard to believe that Lewis defied the odds by using a banned substance found in Deer Antler Spray.  But his accuser, who owns a company that sells the spray, created more adversity for Lewis and the Ravens to overcome.  To their credit, they all stood together and didn’t let this controversy cause them to take their eyes off of the prize.  If anything, the opposite is true.

After all of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the Super Bowl, it was finally time for the game.  Despite the stakes, we were reminded that the Super Bowl is merely a game in the scheme of things as we watched the kids from Sandy Hook Elementary School sing “America the Beautiful” with Jennifer Hudson of American Idol fame.

The captains met at the 50-yard line for the coin toss.  Lewis called it, the Ravens won and elected to defer until the second half.  The Niners started the game at their own 20-yard line after the opening kickoff sailed out of the end zone for a touchback.

On the first play from scrimmage, rookie quarterback, Colin Kaepernick drilled the ball to tight end, Vernon Davis for a big gain, but the play was called back because the Niners lined up illegally.  The young Niners were clearly feeling the Super Bowl jitters much more than the veteran Ravens, and they didn’t move the ball at all early on.  The Ravens’ first possession started near mid field, and they marched down and scored a quick touchdown, aided by a Niner penalty that extended the drive.

The Niners seemed to move the ball at will on their next possession, but the Ravens defense tightened up in the red zone as they usually do, and held the Niners to a field goal.

One of the questions coming into the game was whether or not Joe Flacco was an “elite NFL quarterback.”  He looked poised from the beginning of the game, and proved that his first touchdown pass was no fluke when he hit wide receiver, Anquan Boldin on a long pass, an especially impressive throw considering that he was rolling out and wasn’t set when he launched it down the field.  The Ravens ended up punting on that drive after a sack on Flacco knocked them out of field goal range.

When the Niners got the ball back and started moving down the field with ease, it looked like their speed was going to be too much for the Ravens defense.  Even Lewis, who had been a dominating presence in his previous playoff games, looked slow and was getting beaten by the quicker Niner players.  But the Ravens are an opportunistic defense.  They stripped LaMichael James, recovered the fumble and gave the ball back to a red-hot Flacco, who marched the Ravens down the field for his third touchdown pass of the half.

Even though the Niners managed to score right before the half, they were held to a field goal, so the momentum didn’t swing in their favor.

When Jacoby Jones returned the opening kickoff 108 yards for a Ravens touchdown, it looked like this was going to be another Super Bowl blowout, however, Hollywood scripts require drama to be effective.  So, with the Ravens holding a commanding 28-6 lead early in the third quarter, something had to be done to challenge the Ravens and make them earn their team of destiny status.

The Niners were facing third down and thirteen yards to go for a first down when the lights went out in the Superdome.  Darkness enveloped the stadium momentarily, and the broadcast booth lost all communication.  Total confusion ensued.  It took 34 minutes for the power to be fully restored to light the stadium and to allow for communication between the sidelines and the coaches booths.  Even in Hollywood, this would have seemed like an unrealistic turn of events.

In sports, the one thing that you never want to do is lose momentum.  There is nothing that can be done about the extended halftime at the Super Bowl, but the 34-minute power outage delay was an absolute momentum killer for the Ravens.  Because they ran back the opening kickoff of the second half, it was 84 minutes of real time between offensive possessions.  Quite frankly, they lost their offensive rhythm and opened the door for a comeback, something that the Niners had done in every playoff game leading up to the Super Bowl.  But the layoff also hurt the Ravens defense, especially the older players who don’t warm up as easily.

In the four minutes and ten seconds following the power outage, the Niners outscored the Ravens by a 17-0 margin.  Suddenly, the Ravens’ insurmountable lead was tenuous at best.  They had to know that there was no way that 28 points was going to be enough to hold off the young, hungry Niners who had all of the momentum.  With their backs against the wall, Flacco stopped the bleeding and put together a drive that ended in a field goal, and an 8-point lead.

With just under 13 minutes left in the game, the Ravens were clinging to a 31-23 lead, but they had no answer for the inexperienced, but incredibly talented Kaepernick.  It didn’t take long for him to march the Niners back down the field for a touchdown.  The team of destiny had a 22-point lead reduced to a mere two points after the power outage, and a 2-point conversion would tie the game.  But Kaepernick’s inexperience was no match for the Ravens savvy veteran defense.  They stopped the conversion and held on to the lead.

The Ravens offense responded with another drive that ended in a field goal, but a 5-point lead meant that they could still lose if they gave up a touchdown, and the Niners would get the ball back with over four minutes left in the game and two timeouts remaining.

With just over two minutes left in the game, the Niners were inside the Ravens’ 10-yard line, and threatening to take their first lead of the game.  As they have done time and time again in the playoffs, the Ravens defense made a stand when it mattered most.  The game came down to 4th and goal, and the Ravens knew that they had no choice but to blitz and leave every receiver in one-on-one coverage.  When the ball fell beyond Michael Crabtree’s outstretched hands in the end zone, and no penalties were called on the play, the team of destiny was ready to put the final stamp on this improbable Hollywood ending.

The Ravens punter killed 8 seconds before running out of the end zone for a safety, leaving only 4 seconds on the clock.  The Niners had one last chance to return the free kick for a touchdown to complete the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, but when the Ravens tackled Ted Ginn Jr. near midfield, the Hollywood ending was complete.

Years from now, this classic Super Bowl will be remembered for brothers facing each other as head coaches and a power outage that caused a 34-minute delay that nearly caused an improbable comeback.  But most importantly, it will be remembered as the final game in the illustrious career of Ray Lewis, an incredible linebacker and leader who willed his team to a championship with all of the odds stacked against him…just the way that they script it in Hollywood.

NFL Honors 2013 – A Truly Entertaining Awards Show

In Sports, Television on February 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Alec Baldwin

Most awards shows seem to drag on forever as they honor the same things all night long.  Some have entertaining hosts, but often times, the hosts just add to the boredom.  Alec Baldwin, on the other hand, made sure that NFL Honors 2013 was entertaining from beginning to end, and ensured that it will be something that football fans look forward to each year.  You had to be a football fan to appreciate all of the jokes, but realistically, that is the target audience anyway.  The theater was filled with current and former NFL stars, all of whom were seen laughing whenever the camera panned to them to capture their reactions.

 

There was no subject that was too taboo for Baldwin to handle…

“It was a tough season for the Saints, who kept insisting that there isn’t, nor has there ever been, a bounty system in New Orleans.  And no one is hoping that’s more true than Commissioner Goodell.”  To his credit, Roger Goodell laughed, as he truly seemed to appreciate the humor.

 

Speaking about Peyton Manning…

“After four neck surgeries, he left Indy for Denver and led the Broncos to the AFC West title, capped off with 11 straight wins…Is it me, or did Peyton stop feeling the pain right around the time Colorado legalized marijuana?”  Peyton tried to hold in his laughter, but couldn’t contain himself.

 

On Adrian Peterson coming up nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time rushing record and the replacement refs…

“Nine yards…do you know how short that is?…That’s like one first down to a replacement ref.  Remember those guys?  I know that Aaron Rodgers does.  Actually, some of the replacement refs are working this show tonight, including the guy running the teleprompter…and everything is going just fine…

“Hello, and welcome to the NFL Honors, banana underpants, next page, goodnight and thank you!”

 

On Archie Manning…

“A lot of folks in these parts consider Archie Manning to be the unofficial mayor of New Orleans.  Of course, if he were the real mayor, he would be on trial for corruption charges.  I’m just kidding, New Orleans politics is clean…like Ndamunkong Suh’s game.”

Baldwin’s monolog lasted just over ten minutes, and set the tone for an evening of entertainment amidst the presentation of awards.

 

Robert Griffin III (RG3) took home the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, while Carolina Panther rookie LB, Luke Kuechley took home the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

Bruce Arians was named Coach of the Year, the first time that an interim head coach has ever won the award.  Considering the circumstances that he faced with the Indianapolis Colts this year, this award was well-deserved.

J.J. Watt being named Defensive Player of the Year was no surprise at all, as he was in a class by himself this season.

 

One of the most meaningful awards of the evening was presented to Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys.  He was named the winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for the work that he has done outside of the gridiron in putting an end to domestic violence.  Witten’s father was abusive, so he understands what it’s like to live in that kind of environment.  He spoke about breaking the cycle of abuse, and not letting it continue from generation to generation.  Witten’s love and devotion for his own children is admirable given his upbringing, but being a “shining light” in the lives of other abused kids is the reason that Witten won this prestigious award.  With all of the negative headlines that come out of the NFL all too often, it was nice to see the good that players do for those less fortunate than themselves.

 

After Witten received his award, Baldwin took the stage again to lighten the mood with his comedy about more taboo subjects…

Talking about New York…

“Our area was hit pretty hard by a disaster of epic proportions this year.  Governor Christie estimates the recovery will take years, and cost upwards of $50 – $60 billion.  I’m talking, of course, about the New York Jets.  What a mess!”

“The only thing in football more imaginary than Manti Te’o’s girlfriend is the offensive package for (Tim) Tebow.”

 

The award presentations resumed with Adrian Peterson being named Offensive Player of the Year.

One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.  There hasn’t been much love lost since their days together on the Green Bay Packers, so seeing Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers on stage together was something to behold.

 

RODGERS:  “We’re here to present the award for Comeback Player of the Year.”

FAVRE:  “You know Aaron, everyone loves it when a great player makes a comeback.”

RODGERS:  “Yeah, but not always.  You know some people wish that great players would just retire and stay retired.”

FAVRE: (Patting Rodgers on the back) “Good to see you too Aaron.”

RODGERS:  “Yeah, you too man.” 

After a fake attempt at a man hug, Rodgers looked at the audience and said…“that was awkward.”  It was awkward and uncomfortable to watch, but entertaining just the same.

 

The NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award was given to Peyton Manning, the only real choice for the award.  Peterson’s recovery was nothing short of miraculous, but the fact of the matter is that he didn’t miss any games because he was hurt at the end of last season.  Since he didn’t leave, he realistically couldn’t come back.

Manning accepted the award graciously, and added some comedy of his own to the situation…

“What a tremendous honor to receive this award from two of the best quarterbacks of all time…Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.  It sure is great to see the two of them up here together.  It’s great for football.  I feel  pretty confident, me and Andrew Luck will be up here presenting this award one day together.”

Luck gave an uncomfortable smile, but it is clear that he and Manning have a much better relationship than Favre and Rodgers.

 

For all of his comedy and sarcasm, Baldwin showed tremendous reverence when it came time to honor Steve Sabol, the creator of NFL Films who passed away earlier in the year.

“This past September, the NFL family lost one of its most beloved members.  A man who never played a down, coached a down, or owned a team, yet he was able to change the way we experience football.  It’s hard to even imagine a show like this without the work of the great Steve Sabol…Tonight we pay tribute to the greatest storyteller the world of sports has ever known with some of the iconic moments that Steve Sabol gave to us.”

It is impossible to be a football fan and not appreciate what Sabol has meant to the game, and while he may be gone, his legacy will live on forever through the NFL.

The NFL family lost a number of other people this year, and they were all acknowledged in a montage after the Sabol tribute.

 

NFL Honors was brilliantly produced, and a lot of credit should be given to Baldwin for being able to transition out of the more serious moments to bring some levity back to the room.

Baldwin walked up into the crowd to interview Commissioner Roger Goodell and Samantha Gordon – a 9-yr old football phenom whose YouTube video went viral and made her an Internet sensation.

 

BALDWIN:  “I’m here with NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, and 9-yr old gridiron sensation, Sam Gordon, perhaps the most unstoppable player on any football field.”

GOODELL:  “Who knows Sam?  You may be the first woman to ever play in the NFL.  Would you like that?”

GORDON:  “No.  I’m coming after your job.” (The crowd erupted with laughter)

BALDWIN:  “Commissioner Gordon…I like the sound of that.”

GORDON:  “But first I want to try something easy, like hosting an awards show.”

The crowd erupted with laughter again as Baldwin gave a stoic look into the camera, and then gave her the chance to host as she announced the performance by the band One Republic.  Gordon was adorable and funny, but the musical interlude was the one unnecessary low-light of the evening.

 

The evening wound down with the announcement of the Play of the Year – Ray Rice’s incredible, improbable first down on a screen pass that occurred on fourth down with 29 yards to go, a play that may very well have been the stepping stone to the Ravens Super Bowl run.

The NFL Honors came to a close with the presentation of the MVP Award – given to Adrian Peterson, a running back who nearly broke the all-time rushing record on a surgically-repaired knee that usually keeps players out for at least 9 months.  Those who come back from ACL surgery typically take at least a full season to get back to normal.

In a quarterback-driven league, Peterson’s accomplishments stand out above all others even if he wasn’t coming back from a major injury.  He truly was the MVP, because without him, the Minnesota Vikings may very well have been picking at the top the draft rather than making the playoffs.

The NFL Honors is only in its second year, but if they can produce shows like this going forward, it will become a must-see over Super Bowl weekend for all football fans.

Is Joe Flacco an Elite NFL Quarterback?

In Sports on February 1, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Joe Flacco

Sports media members and football analysts love to debate whether or not a particular NFL quarterback has achieved “elite” status.  It is almost universally agreed upon that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees fall under the category of “elite.”  Beyond this top tier of NFL quarterbacks, there is always debate about which other quarterbacks deserve to be in the same category as the top four.  Before the 2011 season began, Eli Manning stated in an interview that he considered himself to be in the elite category with Brady.  His statement was the source of great debate on sports talk radio shows.  When he helped the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots for a second Super Bowl championship in a five-year period, many people started to jump on the Eli bandwagon.  Super Bowl victories have a way of elevating quarterbacks from good to great, which is why the debate over Joe Flacco’s elite status has kicked into high gear this week.  Quite frankly, the debate over elite quarterbacks serves no real purpose since “elite” is in the eye of the beholder.

Throughout the course of NFL history, there have been quarterbacks who have achieved tremendous success without winning a Super Bowl, and they rarely get mentioned in the conversation of greatest quarterbacks of all time.  Aside from Dan Marino – who appeared in one Super Bowl – many other quarterbacks such as Dan Fouts, Warren Moon and Jim Kelly are largely unrecognized for their accomplishments because they never won a championship.  Flacco has already done something that no other quarterback in NFL history has done by winning at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons, but his ticket into the highly subjective elite NFL QB club won’t be punched if the Baltimore Ravens fail to beat the San Francisco Forty Niners in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, which is kind of absurd.

What happens if Flacco throws three touchdowns and no interceptions as he has already done twice this year in the playoffs, but the Ravens lose because of a costly fumble, a special teams miscue or the defense can’t figure out how to shut down the Niners dual-threat quarterback, Colin Kaepernick?  Does that lessen Flacco’s accomplishments because his team didn’t win?  Conversely, what if Flacco throws for less than 200 yards, throws no touchdowns and an interception, but the Ravens find a way to beat the Niners in spite of a less-than-stellar performance from their quarterback?  Does he still get elevated to elite status because his team won?

The conversation about whether or not a quarterback is a “franchise quarterback” makes perfect sense.  After all, in today’s pass-happy NFL, the chances of a team winning the Super Bowl with an average to below average quarterback are slim to none.  Aside from Brad Johnson guiding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory in 2003, and Trent Dilfer guiding the Ravens to their first Super Bowl victory in 2001, no other “game-managing” quarterbacks have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in several decades.

The bottom line is that teams with franchise quarterbacks compete for Super Bowl victories, while teams without them generally don’t.  Football is the ultimate team game, and no one really cares whether or not their quarterback is considered “elite” when they win a Super Bowl.  Even if the Ravens lose the Super Bowl, there is no doubt that Flacco is a franchise quarterback who is good enough to lead his team to a Super Bowl in any given year.  Win or lose on Sunday, Flacco is going to be one of the highest paid NFL quarterbacks when he signs a new contract after the season, regardless of whether the “experts” elevate him to elite status or not.

Los Angeles Lakers: Destined for the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery

In Sports on January 31, 2013 at 4:00 pm

NBA Draft Lottery

When the Los Angeles Lakers pulled off trades for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash during the off-season, they looked like a team that was built to make another run at an NBA title, at least on paper.  Unfortunately for the Lakers, the games are not played on paper; they are played on a court, where an all-star team of paper tigers has been proven to be too old and slow to compete at the highest level.  If this team had been assembled five years ago, the Lakers may very well have been favored to win it all, but time is not kind to professional athletes.  With more than half of the season completed, the only thing that the Lakers have to look forward to at this point is seeing how many ping pong balls they will have when the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery takes place on Tuesday, May 21st.

The trades that looked so brilliant in the off-season have backfired on the Lakers.  Both Howard and Nash have suffered through an injury-plagued season, and the team has yet to jell even when everyone is healthy.

When the Lakers got off to a 1-4 start, head coach, Mike Brown, took the fall and was fired.  Rumors abound that the “Zen Master,” Phil Jackson, would be brought back to fix what ailed the Lakers, but his return never came to fruition.  The basketball world was shocked when the Lakers chose to go with Mike D’Antoni instead of Jackson, but no one thought that the team would continue to falter so badly that they would miss the playoffs.

A three-game home winning streak this month gave Laker fans a glimmer of false hope that they could climb out of the early-season abyss that they created for themselves.  However, reality set in last night when the Lakers blew a 13-point, fourth quarter lead in Phoenix as the Suns extended the Lakers road losing streak to 7 games in Nash’s return to the city that he called home for most of his career.  This was the first time in franchise history that the Lakers have ended a calendar month with a road record of 0-7 or worse.  Their road record this season is now an appalling 5-16, and their overall record is 20-26.

The Western Conference does not reward mediocre teams with playoff berths the way that the Eastern Conference does, so the Lakers are facing an uphill battle.  Over the past decade, the eighth seed in the Western Conference has been at least four games over .500 every year except one, and even that team was two games over .500.

If recent history is any indication, the Lakers will have to finish the season with a record of 22-14 to even have a chance to sneak into the playoffs, and they still have 20 road games left on the schedule.  To make matters worse, Howard re-injured his shoulder again last night in the loss to the Suns, so his availability is in question.

Even if the Lakers are able to get on a roll and make it into the playoffs, their first round matchup is almost guaranteed to be against either the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder or the Los Angeles Clippers who are in the unfamiliar position of being LA’s glamour team.  All three teams are dominant at home.  And while a matchup against the Clippers wouldn’t require any travel, the Lakers simply cannot keep up with the younger and faster hometown rivals in a seven-game series.

There will be a lot of discussion in the coming weeks about whether the Lakers should deal Howard by the February 21st trading deadline, but it won’t matter either way.  The only question left to answer for the Lakers for the remainder of the season is…

How many ping pong balls will have their logo on it when the NBA Draft Lottery takes place in May?

A-Rod’s Contract Should Serve as a Wake-Up Call to All MLB Owners

In Sports on January 30, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez has likely donned pinstripes for the last time because of his latest PED (performance enhancing drug) scandal, his over-inflated contract and his diminishing returns on the field.  The New York Yankees still owe Rodriguez $114 million over the next five years, but they are going to try and leverage Rodriguez’s PED usage to void the contract.  Unfortunately for the Yankees, all MLB contracts are fully guaranteed, and the player’s union is unlikely allow any contract to be voided without a fight.  Rodriguez’s contract should serve as a wake-up call to all MLB owners.

If Major League Baseball truly wants to fix what ails the game today, the owners must work with the player’s union to legislate performance enhancing drugs out of the game by making contracts voidable to those players who are found guilty of using PEDs.   At the very least, the penalties for getting caught using PEDs need to be made so strict that they serve as a true deterrent.

The PED problem in baseball has blighted a whole generation of players.  It is the sole reason that players with undisputable hall of fame careers are being kept from joining the ranks of other players who have already been enshrined in the hallowed halls in Cooperstown.

While PEDs are a serious problem, they are not the only problem that Major League Baseball is facing with regard to its guaranteed contracts.

In recent years, large market teams have thrown obscene amounts of money in long-term deals to free agents who are guaranteed to provide diminishing returns by the time the contract ends.  These over-inflated salaries will account for a large percentage of team payrolls years after the players’ most productive seasons.  Because the contracts are guaranteed, these players become virtually untradeable.

The Yankees simply have not gotten the production out of Rodriguez to justify his contract, and now they are going to try and use a PED scandal to save them from themselves.

Rodriguez will turn 38 in the middle of this season, so his age would already dictate a likely decline in production.  Coming off of his second major hip surgery, there was no guarantee that he was going to play this season anyway, even if he isn’t suspended for a good portion of the year.  His abysmal playoff performance last season had him riding the pine while the Yankees were fighting to keep their World Series dream alive.   That should speak volumes about what the Yankees think of him as a player.

If the Yankees fail to get Rodriguez’s contract voided if he is found guilty of this PED accusation, they are unlikely to find many options to get rid of him without paying a large sum of money.  Even if they were willing to absorb a good percentage of the money left in his contract, the Yankees are unlikely to find another team that would want to take on an injury-prone, former superstar with greatly diminished skills who is embroiled in a PED scandal.

The time has come for Major League Baseball to stop doling guaranteed contracts for players who are caught cheating, and over-inflated, long-term contracts for players who are beyond their prime.  Alex Rodriguez fits into both categories, and his situation should serve as a wake-up call to all MLB owners who need someone to save them from themselves.

Super Bowl XLVII Media Day: Randy Moss – Best Wide Receiver Ever?

In Sports on January 30, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Rice v Moss

Every year, Super Bowl Media Day brings out thousands of people with media credentials.  This year, there were over 5,000 credentials given out to reporters from 24 different countries.  With that many “reporters” present, it stands to reason that there will be a wide range of questions from the bizarre to the insightful to the controversial.  This year, there was a bit of controversy surrounding Ray Lewis and allegations that he has used a banned substance, but Randy Moss stating that he is the best wide receiver in NFL history is what has sports media and football fans buzzing.

Does Moss have a legitimate claim to be considered the best wide receiver in NFL history?  Among the best, absolutely, but the distinction of best ever still belongs to Jerry Rice.  According to Moss, statistics should not be the only factor that is used when determining the best ever.  For the record, Rice’s statistics are by far, the best ever for a wide receiver, but that is not the only reason that he is almost unanimously considered to be the best wide receiver ever.

Moss is correct that statistics should not be the only factor in determining the best ever, but the other factors only serve to distance Rice further from Moss.  Aside from being a more dangerous deep threat in the vertical passing game, Moss lags behind Rice in every other wide receiver category.

No one can argue that Moss is one of the most talented wide receivers of all time.  And if he had Rice’s work ethic, he may very well have elevated himself to the lofty status of best wide receiver in NFL history.  However, Moss was known for taking plays off, even during his peak years with the Minnesota Vikings.  Rice, on the other hand, gave the proverbial 110% on every play, even when the ball wasn’t coming his way.  Rice blocked, went across the middle and fought for yards after he caught the ball in addition to scoring touchdowns with regularity.  Moss, on the other hand, has always been more about scoring touchdowns and making highlight reel catches, but he has never been very interested in doing the dirty work that Rice took pride in doing.

The greatest players in every sport are the ones who lead by example and help elevate the play of their teammates.  Rice was a leader on one of the most prolific dynasties in NFL history.  His work ethic in practice set the tone for the rest of his team, and his game preparation was as thorough as any player to ever play the game.  He is largely responsible for the Super Bowls that the San Francisco Forty Niners won in the 1980’s.  Moss may very well win his first Super Bowl on Sunday while wearing the same Niner uniform that Rice once wore, but if he does, the hero of the game will more than likely to be one of Moss’s teammates.

Moss may truly believe that he is the best wide receiver in NFL history, but he will be hard-pressed to find many who agree with him.

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