Archive for the Sports Category

NHL Power Rankings

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , on April 13, 2011 by Joe

My friend Brian has decided to take a break from his busy and hectic schedule to give us all his first NHL Power Rankings heading into the start of the NHL playoffs tonight. Brian knows more about hockey and the NHL than anyone I know so it’s nice to have his insight into the current state of teams that anyone actually cares about. Sorry New Jersey. You can catch Brian on his podcast and follow him on twitter @otwithb. Without further delay, I’ll let Brian take it away.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the NHL Playoffs. No athletes play harder and no championship is more physically grueling to obtain. 16 qualify and hockey has parity so they all have a legitimate shot for one reason or another. Last season, the NHL Eastern Conference saw the 7th seeded Boston Bruins and 8th seeded Philadelphia Flyers playing in its finals. On the very last day of the regular season, the Minnesota Wild proved that they lay down for absolutely no one and allowed the defending Champion Chicago Blackhawks to back in as the 16th team to qualify by pulling out a regulation win over a Dallas team obvious inspired by Tony Romo’s big game reputation. Let’s run down the top 17.

The Choker:

17. Dallas

Stars had everything lined up for their regular season finale against the old Stars (Minnesota) with Chicago’s loss in regulation to the old stars (Detroit), all they needed to do was to win to get in the playoffs. What happened? Epic fail. After leading the Pacific through most of the season, Dallas went into a tailspin in February spurred by the injury of their best player and UFA to be Brad Richards. I think all Stars fans would rather re-sign Richards to a long-term deal and finish outside the playoffs than make the playoffs. My hope is the NHL’s model southern franchise gets to keep Richards but his former Tampa Bay coach John Tortarella and buckets of cash are waiting in New York.

The One and Done’s:

16. Buffalo

Am I a Sabres hater? Probably. Is it because a grown man in Buffalo attempted to fight me as a 15-year-old wearing a Penguins jersey the last time I was in the city for a hockey game?  Probably, yet my hater status is valid for many other reasons. I openly campaigned for my Penguins to draw Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs. In February it was announced that Thomas Pegula purchased the Sabres from Thomas Golisano when, for the last few years, I thought it was the Penguins who owned the Sabres. Call it the Curse of Kasparaitis, whatever but Pittsburgh is the team Buffalo least wants to see.

The Sabres are missing their top forward, Derek Roy. Ryan Miller has been fairly ordinary since the 2010 Olympics. The current defense has made departed free agents Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder look like Larry Robinson and Serge Savard circa the late 1970’s. Bottom line: Buffalo should be counting light bulbs in 6 games or less. I see people picking Buffalo for an upset of the Flyers. I don’t see it. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat crow live on my podcast. Literally crow.

15. New York

The Rangers rank over Buffalo in the East only because of Henrik Lundqvist’s ability to steal games and the coming of age by the young New York defense. Marc Staal could be edging brother Jordan as the second best Staal in the NHL, Dan Girardi has become a two-way force, and Bryan McCabe has proven that he’s running on more than fumes since his return from hockey exile in Florida. Ryan Callahan’s injury was a major setback to their limited ability to put up goals. With Marian Gaborik reverting to his previous “handle with care” injury status,  the Rangers did get offensive contributions of 20 or more goals from Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan, and Cy Young candidate Brian Boyle, whose 21 goals, 14 assists unfortunately lost out to Michael Grabner’s amazing 34-18 year. The Cy Young is one of my favorite hockey’s unofficial cross-over awards along with the Green Jacket (congratulations Chris Phillips on your -35 rating). New York’s other scorers can be grouped into three categories of disappointment: former Penguins (Ruslan Fedotenko, Erik Christensen), general underachievers (Vinny Prospal, Wojtek Wolski) and injured but still bad (Chris Drury, Alex Frolov).

The opponent of the Broadway Blueshirts is the Washington Capitals who have proven themselves as a team likely to be upset. That’s why the Rangers are here and Buffalo is not. The ingredients for a Caps meltdown are there: Lundqvist starts hot, Caps goalie du jour allows soft goals giving the Rangers pop gun offense confidence, and New York remembers it won the season series 3-1. Bruce Boudreau is dripping barbecue sauce all over his face in panic.

The Wounded Youth:

14. Los Angeles

The promising young Kings playoff chances were dealt a couple huge blows when top two scorers Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams went down with injuries. Los Angeles was getting a lot of ink early in the preseason as a top contender, it just hasn’t gone that way for them this year. GM Dean Lombardi refused to mortgage the future on Ilya Kovalchuk or Brad Richards in a trade which could turn out to be a “Let’s Remake the Arthur movie” sized mistake. Lombardi overpaid at the Trade Deadline for Dustin Penner by giving up defenseman Colten Teubert (13th overall in the 2008 draft), a 2011 1st Round Pick, and a conditional 3rd in 2012. Seems like a high price for almost a year and a quarter from a guy with a bloated contract that has won a Stanley Cup yet has a reputation of lazy and inconsistent play. Kopitar’s injury occurred after the Trade Deadline so I cannot help but wonder that had it occurred earlier, Lombardi would have made a move for Richards or possibly Panthers center Stephen Weiss to fill the gap.

Kings look one and done this season. I think most of LA has already moved on to the Lakers or Dodgers or American Idol anyway.

The “How Are They Doing It?” Teams:

13. Phoenix

A common thread among these next three teams is that they have poor goal differentials for the year. That statistic is not the end all, be all of hockey sabermetrics yet it’s troubling to see playoff also ran’s like the Calgary Flames at +13 for the year and the Coyotes at +5, Canadiens at +7, and Lightning at +7. Phoenix is the ultimate WTF team. For two years in a row, they have had more reasons to mail it in than Jon Cryer at Two and a Half Men tapings. Two men have kept them afloat: Coach Dave Tippett and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Tippett continues to show that having 10 dimes at forward still add up to a dollar when other teams have players that could represent a quarter in this misguided analogy. Their forwards are essentially the cast of the Wire, no huge names yet effective at what they do. Bryzgalov put up another great season of numbers and could be trouble to re-sign as he approaches unrestricted free agency.

Credit must also be given to GM Don Maloney for assembling the best 1 thru 6 defense core in the Western Conference. Keith Yandle has broken out offensively and mixed well with veteran horses Adrian Aucoin, Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, and recent acquisitions Michal Rozsival and Rusty Klesla. I mocked Maloney’s Rozsival from the Rangers for Wolski deal. I have to admit that he knew something about Wolski I did not because that trade has been a major win for Phoenix. Their Round 1 rematch with the Red Wings could be another 7 game classic.

12. Montreal

The Canadiens are the team I have the least amount of confidence in my ability to predict. Last season after the Penguins rung up an easy Game 1 victory, I thought Pittsburgh would win in 3 with a possibility for a fourth game in that series. We all know what happened from there. Montreal’s timely scoring last season and an unbelievable performance by goalie Jaroslav Halak could not have been predicted by anyone outside of the province of Quebec. This looks like nearly the same team with the notable exception of Carey Price in-goal and not Halak. Price had a spectacular regular season however when we last saw him as a playoff starter, he gave himself a Bronx cheer in 2009 after an easy save during a sweep at the hands of a Boston Bruins. I trust Price about as much as I would trust Ben Roethlisberger in an empty house with my sister and a bottle of tequila. I give up on the Canadiens, but my inkling is that they are not good.

11. Tampa Bay

Tampa is another team that is hard to figure out. Martin St. Louis will show up, we know that. I have wondered aloud how a guy like Martin St. Louis can be so good and so underrated concurrently. Since there was no 64 point performance by Andrew Cogliano on the last day of the season, St. Louis finished second in the NHL in scoring. Is he underrated because his last name is the same as a U.S. city? Can we call this the Marty St. Louis Doctrine? Further exploration sees that this same name as a city effect applied to former Knicks guard Allan Houston, former Jazz guard John Stockton, and current Steelers cornerback Anthony Madison, but not wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Perhaps the St. Louis Doctrine only applies to unscripted sports.

Everything will come down to the oldest guy and one of the youngest guys on the roster: Dwayne Roloson and Steven Stamkos. Roloson may be 41 yet he spent many years getting light use as a backup and I cannot shake the thoughts of his one man show during the 2006 playoffs. It’s funny to think how the NHL landscape would have been different if Roloson not been run into by teammate Marc-Andre Bergeron and then Carolina Hurricane Andrew Ladd, forcing him out for the rest of the playoffs with a knee injury. The Oilers could have won the Stanley Cup and Chris Pronger would have been an even bigger pariah if he would have requested a trade in the off-season. Back to the topic at hand, Roloson has experience and Stamkos has zero. Many star players have had their first foray into the NHL playoffs go about as well as any Tim Meadows star-making vehicle. Going against Pittsburgh in their first round matchup is that Bolts forwards Simon Gagne and Vincent Lecavalier are long-time Pens-killers. I would not be surprised to see Tampa out in 5 games or hanging around to the Conference Finals.

The Cap Squeezed Champions:

10. Chicago

Looking at the Hawks roster that was etched on the Stanley Cup from last season to this year, you would need to subtract: Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Antti Niemi, Ben Eager, Adam Burish, Nick Boynton, Brent Sopel, Cristobal Huet, Kim Johnsson, and John Madden. This year they added Chris Campoli, Corey Crawford, Michael Frolik, Ryan Johnson, Nick Leddy, Fernando Pisani, Viktor Stahlberg, and Marty Turco. That’s a net loss. The second group is inexperienced with the exception of the now back-up/gambling sharp Turco and Pisani.

The good news includes the play of Jonathan Toews down the stretch, Patrick Kane’s mullet returning for the playoffs, and the matchup with President’s Trophy winning Vancouver. The Canucks may be the #1 seed but the Hawks have knocked them out of the playoffs two years in a row. There’s still some fight in the champions but I cannot trust a team that was a Minnesota Wild no-show job in Game 82 away from early tee times. If only the Wild knew that Coach Todd Richards was going to take the fall anyway, Chicago would have no opportunity to defend their Cup. Oh well, they didn’t and the Hawks do.

Goalie Most Likely to Halak the Playoffs:

9. Nashville

Meet Pekka Rinne, if you have not already. He’s a 28-year-old Finn who was drafted in the 8th round in 2004 who finished second in the NHL in save percentage and third in goals against average. In many ways, Rinne is microcosm of the Predators franchise. Not heralded but he has grown to be very effective in a gradual manner and a player who has unfortunately never won an NHL playoff series. Nashville, despite its five previous appearances, is still looking to get on the board with a Stanley Cup playoff series win. I was secretly hoping they would play the Phoenix Coyotes so that one of those franchises could win their first. The way their team is run by Coach Barry Trotz and GM David Poile is worthy of an award yearly. They continue to lose their best players and stay competitive. You could make a playoff team out of the players they’ve lost over the last 5 years:  Mike Sillinger, Brendan Witt, Greg Johnson, Yanic Perreault, Tomas Vokoun, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, Marek Zidlicky, Dan Hamhuis, Greg Zanon, Alex Radulov, and Jason Arnott to name 14. Those guys were almost entirely replaced by in-house (read: cheaper) players. They are hard-working, plucky, and hungry. No team wants to play Nashville.

The sad thing is that Nashville and Anaheim are meeting in the first round. It will be a phenomenal series. I wish both teams could get into the second round. It reminds me of the Kings and Canucks series from 2009 where I was convinced that those two first round opponents were 2 of the 4 best teams in the conference.

Peaking at the Right Time Sleeper:

8. Anaheim

I would like to take a break from these rankings to confess my man-crush for Teemu Selanne. The Finish Flash had 80 points in 73 games as a 40-year-old and that does not even begin to tell the story of his season. Selanne scored numerous huge goals while the Ducks were chasing a playoff spot embodied by his 3 goals and 2 assists in a 5-4 win over the Avalanche on March 28th with Anaheim on the outside looking in. Just when I thought I was so full of admiration for Teemu that I could not possibly take another drop, he drops the gloves against Brad Richardson of the Kings in the final regular season game of the year. Did he win? Who cares? A 40-year-old sniper with more goals (637) than penalty minutes (565), without saying a word, told his teammates that it’s playoff time and time for everyone to sacrifice. Tony Esposito has done a lot for hockey yet his drafting of Darrin Shannon over Selanne as the Penguins GM in 1988 allegedly because he did not want to draft European players is one of two reasons he is responsible for setting back the Pens for years. The other is more personal to my Dad and I when he would not sign Guy Lafleur during his 1988 comeback. Young Mario Lemieux wanted his idol to be his winger but Esposito would not have Lafleur on the roster so Guy signed with Rangers. This action denied my Dad and I the chance to see his all-time favorite hockey player and mine as linemates and condemned Lemieux to having Bob Errey, in a previous life a hockey player before moving on to butcher the English language on local Penguins telecasts, on his wing.

Back to the Ducks, I feel badly that I went 297 words without mentioning Corey Perry. His hot streak is also responsible for the late season surge and his off the board Richard Trophy win was a great story. Perry played in the shadow of linemate and team captain Ryan Getzlaf for years yet he started making noise in a good way while a key member of Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics. Perry was known as more of an agitator and even his worst critics now have to give his game respect. The main concern with Anaheim is their goaltending situation. Twitter whipping boy Dan Ellis is the current #1 with usual starter suffering from vertigo, Jonas Hiller, possibly ready to return. Hiller has some playoff bona-fides and his return would solidify the Ducks as a playoff landmine for anyone.

The Wounded Veterans Waiting Their Savior Who May Not Come:

7. Pittsburgh

The Penguins have done a valiant job without Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin, two former scoring champions lost to injury. Malkin is not coming back, that’s a given yet Crosby’s return could swing the balance of power in the playoffs. Coach Dan Bylsma has enhanced his reputation more than Tommy Lee when that Pam Anderson tape came out this past season by willing this team to 100 points (not to mention a good turn on HBO’s 24/7). The only guy in Pittsburgh who had a better season was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Known for being a fragile soul, Fleury fought off a rough start to be the team MVP. Hard to believe that Brent Johnson, the NHL’s version of Gus Frerotte (if he’s your back-up, it’s a great sign for your team but if he’s the starter, that’s bad news), almost stole the starter job from the Flower early in the season.

The Penguins have become a scrappy underdog after a few years of being the NHL’s dreamboats. Without Crosby or Malkin, previous supporting players like Kristopher Letang and Tyler Kennedy have stepped to the forefront. Even the artist formerly known as Alex Kovalev, who was nice enough to take number 72 instead of his normal 27 just to let us know he isn’t the same player, has shown occasional signs of life. The expectations are tempered however if we see Sidney Crosby walking down the runway for a game, the Penguins instantly get pushed to the front of the line. The Penguins management have been playing mind games with the way they’ve had Crosby practicing and making vague comments about his return. Without Crosby, they are one of the 4 or 5 best teams in the East. With Crosby, they could win it all. Yes, he’s that important.

The Yeah, But…Favorites:

6. Philadelphia

Let’s jump in our time machine back to 1994, the Philadelphia Flyers were a deep team who struck fear into the rest of the NHL yet there were question marks about their goaltending. Returning to the present, the Philadelphia Flyers are a deep team who strike fear into the rest of the NHL yet there are question marks about their goaltending. Is Sergei Bobrovsky more like Robert Esche or Michael Leighton? Garth Snow or Brian Boucher? Geriatric John Vanbiesbrouck or Geriatric Sean Burke? Take your pick. The forwards are strong, the defense is top-heavy but still above average (if Chris Pronger is normal healthy, elbow throwing, puck stealing-self) , and goaltending is again the issue.

Two other factors working against Philadelphia: fatigue and a weak finish. The Flyers were a juggernaut through the first half of the season yet lost the #1 seed in the East to the Capitals and were pushed by the hobbled Penguins for the Atlantic Division crown. Philadelphia struggled down the stretch going 3-4-3 in their final ten games and fatigue is a legitimate reason. The Flyers had a draining run as an 8 seed who overcame a 3-0 deficit to make the Finals before bowing out to the Blackhawks in OT of Game 6. Hockey players are finely tuned athletic machines who can break down. The high level of hockey in the playoffs will run teams into the ground in time. Philadelphia has a large task in front of them if they wish to advance in the 2010 Playoffs.

5. San Jose

The Sharks made the Conference Finals last season due to great performances by Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle. Pavelski, Ryan Clowe, and super rookie Logan Couture are going to be offensive forces this year for San Jose. You notice I did not say Joe Thornton. Big Joe had his moments of good (12 points in 15 games)  and bad (-11 rating). Thornton’s playoff reputation precedes him and to a lesser degree linemates the de-captained Patrick Marleau and First Team All-Douche Dany Heatley. Quick tangent on Heatley, the guy was suspended for an obviously dirty hit on Dallas agitator Steve Ott and had the nerve to pop off about Ott having a new-found halo after his history of past suspensions. Dany, do you really want to bring up bad things from people’s pasts? Really?

The Sharks also have had the oddest goaltending year I can think of. Evgeni Nabokov was their longtime goalie who could never get over the playoff hump like the rest of the team and ended up taking the fall so San Jose signs Antero Niittymaki to be their new #1. Then things get weird when the Blackhawks walk away from the arbitration award given their Stanley Cup winning goalie Antti Niemi. With all the starting jobs locked up, Niemi takes a one year deal from the Sharks and outplays Niittymaki and in the process receives a three-year extension. Meanwhile Nabokov was signed to play with Detroit after spending half a year in the Russian KHL but is claimed on waivers by the New York Islanders and refuses to report to the lottery bound team, ending up in hockey exile. Anyway, the Sharks are a team that shrinks in big moments and I have no confidence that changes this season.

4. Washington

The heroes of HBO’s 24/7 did a great job of simmering most of the regular season instead of boiling over like past years when they were upset early in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin was top 10 in scoring yet the Art Ross keeper never considered him a threat to be carved into his trophy. Ovechkin will never be mistaken for a great defensive player but his improvement in that area of the ice represents the commitment Washington made of playing the entire ice surface instead of just the offensive zone as they were accused of doing in the past. The Capitals battled through hot and cold streaks yet steadied long enough to win the top seed in the East. There is forward depth with proven crease crashers Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, and Jason Arnott which mesh nicely with danglers like Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. Arnott has been a huge addition in the room and unlike many of his teammates, has a successful playoff track record. The Capitals are viewed by many as “Sharks-West” in terms of their perennially great regular seasons capped by playoff disaster. If Jack Bauer was threatening their families unless they were absolutely truthful, I would think many coaches would rather play Washington in the first round over the other top seeds in the East because of this mental instability….and the goalie situation, of course.

Give the Capitals credit, they have stood by the company line of going with their young netminders. When veteran like Tomas Vokoun were thought to be available, Washington stood behind the three-headed goaltending monster of Semyeon Varlamov, Michael Neuvrith, and Braden Holtby. Ultimately it could be the decision that undoes their Stanley Cup run. Neuvrith is the favorite to start their series against the Rangers but you wonder how long of a leash he has. Jose Theodore had a sparkling regular season in 2009-10 then was pulled after two games in favor of Varlamov and the Caps fell in 7 to Montreal. The goalies have not made this an easy situation for Coach Boudreau either by allowing some soft goals and generally not distinguishing themselves from one another. This has not been exclusively the fault of the goalies as the “defense” played by Mike Green and company was suspect at times. The additions of grizzled vet Scott Hannan, rookie John Carlson, and recently acquired and injured Dennis Wideman should provide relief. Boudreau and the Caps are on trial this year. If another flame out happens, expect the coach to be fired and possibly even a pitch for Vokoun or Bryzgalov in free agency.

Built for May and June:

3. Detroit

Pavel Datsyuk is a wizard. I’m pretty sure he talked to Jimmy Page about how to trade your soul to be the best at your craft. He’s got the YouTube goals, he’s unbelievable at the whole game, and if I were to have a hockey playing son I would say “watch this guy and do exactly what he does”. Datsyuk doesn’t win scoring titles and he’s starting to lose his speed but his smarts put him on another level. Pavel averaged over a point a game despite some injuries and the attention he pays to defensive zone play. Plus, the guy has a quirky Russian sense of humor which is always endearing. Henrik Zetterberg is the same type of player without the flashiness of the Datsyukian dekes (yes, he has his own adjective). Zetterberg also looks like Jake Gyllenhall which goes in the minus column. Oh, so back to hockey. The Wings are an older team yet Datsyuk, captain Nicklas Lidstrom, and company can still get it done. The only guys who seem to have dropped off dramatically in play are Chris Osgood, Tomas Holmstrom, and Brian Rafalski from the action I’ve seen this year. The regular season is a formality for them. Detroit becomes a different team in the playoffs and those guys can turn it around with a strong performance. Coach Mike Babcock is a beauty, the exact type of guy you would expect to be an old school Canadian hockey coach that lives for this time of year. Babcock gets the most out of his stars and journeymen like Dan Cleary, Drew Miller, and Ruslan Salei. Those types always seem to play their best hockey with the Red Wings.  Babcock has even semi-restored the image of Todd Bertuzzi.

Jimmy Howard had his maiden voyage into the post-season last year where he was a little uneven. His predecessor Osgood had the uncanny ability to raise his game in the playoffs. Howard has not developed that, it’s possible he may never. It gets redundant to say how important goalies are, that doesn’t make it any less true. In an odd way, this is a big year for the Red Wings because they could reassert their dominance over teams like the Canucks and Sharks in the West.

2. Boston

I waited until last to type this one up because I don’t want to gush too much about Boston. I probably still will. The mix is there to win the Stanley Cup. They have the mix of embarrassment and fire following the Flyers coming back from a 3-0 deficit in last season’s playoffs against them. Need inspiration? Look to concussed superstar Marc Savard who was their top player prior to collisions with Matt Cooke and Matt Hunwick. The cruel irony is that Savard was known as a petulant but skilled player who just didn’t “get it” who really turned it around to become a good teammate and legitimate force in the past couple years. Continue the feel good storyline with the bounce back seasons from some of their top players: Tim Thomas took back his starting job from young Tuukka Rask and put up stellar numbers that make him the Vezina Trophy favorite, Milan Lucic emerged from an injury and production plagued year to score 30 goals (up from 9 last season), and Mark Reechi at 43 years of age increased his point total to 48 while playing 81 games. This team is a Disney movie waiting to happen.

The Bruins also made a couple of savvy acquisitions to bolster their chances. The long rumored Tomas Kaberle trade from Toronto may not have paid immediate dividends yet his presence should prove invaluable in the post-season. Nathan Horton has 2011 Mike Cammallieri written all over him and if he gets hot in the playoffs, look out. Even guys like Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly represent under the radar moves that got responsible players into the Bruins lineup. Youngsters Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin are ready to contribute if necessary. Boston is dangerous and starting off against their rival Canadiens is a good way to get the adrenaline running.

Prohibitive Favorite: 

1. Vancouver

Top to bottom, the most talent in the league. They have twin brothers who each won a scoring title the last two seasons, a goalie my buddies and I referred to as “the Cheat Code” when playing Playstation 2 games, and a group of unheralded but solid defensemen. Their third line of forwards could be the top line on many teams. The weight of expectations and a rabid fan base in on their shoulders. The Vancouver Canucks fans have suffered through years of heartbreak and ZERO Stanley Cups. The Cup has not been won by a Canadian team since 1994. When Montreal gets knocked out, most of Canada will be backing the Canucks and at the very least covering them extra. They have to perform.

If it doesn’t work this season, GM Mike Gillis should check the interest in either prize prospect netminder Corey Schneider or unthinkably Roberto Luongo. Luongo was the Team Canada goaltender for the gold medal win however it would not be a stretch to say they won in spite of him. If the Canucks get knocked out early this year where the offense is loaded, the defense is solid top to bottom, and Luongo is in net, guess who will be blamed? This is a career altering playoffs for Bobby Lou. The Canucks are supposed to win and just like quarterbacks in the NFL, the goaltenders often get too much credit when their team wins and too much blame when their team loses. This is what Luongo wanted in 2006 when he was dealt from Florida to the Canucks. Vancouver quizzically named him captain then promptly took away the “C” so he could focus on his own game. If he cannot win with all these factors in his favor, many will believe he simply cannot win. Roberto Luongo, you are on the clock. Good luck, paisan.

Since no one asked me yet…

Round 1: VAN over CHI in 5, SJ over LA in 6, PHO over DET in 7, NAS over ANA in 7; WAS over NYR in 6, PHI over BUF in 5, BOS over MTL in 7, PIT over TB in 6

Round 2: VAN over PHO in 6, NAS over SJ in 6; WAS over PIT in 7, BOS over PHI in 5

Conference Finals: VAN over NAS in 7; BOS over WAS in 6

Stanley Cup Finals: BOS over VAN in 6

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That’s RACIST

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , on April 7, 2011 by Joe

Guess who’s back? Back again. Joey’s back. Tell a friend. Guess who’s back? Guess who’s back? Guess who’s back?

It’s been awhile since my last post. Mainly because I’ve been really busy but also because I was being a bit lazy and had run out of ideas. Well, you can thank former professional quarterback and the first Black quarterback to get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Warren Moon, for giving me an idea.

Warren has taken it upon himself to become the advisor for the future first round draft pick, former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Why does Newton need Moon as an advisor you ask? I honestly don’t know. But whatever, that’s beside the point. The point is however that Moon has recently said that the reason Newton has gotten so much criticism from the press is because he is, wait for it……..BLACK.

The reason Cam is being labeled selfish, childish, a poor leader, fake, lacks accountability, lacks focus, isn’t because he was kicked out of The University of Florida for stealing,  or being accused of asking for money to play college football (does anyone really think Cam knew nothing about what is father was doing), or the fact he only played one year at a high level and usually ran after his first option was covered, it’s because his skin isn’t white. That’s right people, it’s the return of the good old-fashioned race card.

Here is exactly what Moon said:

“A lot of the criticism he’s receiving is unfortunate and racially based,” Moon, who is Newton’s adviser, told the website. “I thought we were all past this. I don’t see other quarterbacks in the draft being criticized by the media or fans about their smile or called a phony. He’s being held to different standards from white quarterbacks. I thought we were past all this stuff about African-American quarterbacks, but I guess we’re not. Of course there is racism in every walk of society. We’ve made a lot of progress in this country. But racism is still there. I just thought in the sports arena we were beyond it. I think the way Cam is being treated shows we’re not.”

BULLSHIT!!!!!

Sorry for the obscene language, but I couldn’t think of any other way to put it. Moon is so far off base here that it is actually sad. The last I checked, Ryan Mallett is getting very similar criticism and he is as white as white can be. That pretty much completely shuts down Moon’s theory right there.

Scouts are tasked with a very important job. Based upon their recommendation, teams may end up investing Millions and Millions of dollars on these players as well as the future success of their franchises. Part of evaluating a player is to not only look at the players tangible’s on the field but also their intangibles and off the field behavior.

Newton has done a great job so far of spotlighting this troubles off the field. First, he was accused of stealing a computer from a fellow student then charged when said computer was found in his possession (the white devil probably planted it). It was also reported that a big reason why Newton left The University of Florida is because he was facing either suspension or expulsion for being caught cheating on three separate occasions (he was unfairly accused by a white professor).

After that it was off to Blinn College (yeah, I had never heard of it either) where he ended up leading his team to the 2009 NJCAA National Football Championship. He apparently didn’t have any issues here but then it gets much more interesting.

Auburn recruited Newton to come play. While leading the Heisman Trophy race and helping guide his team to a future NCAA Championship, an investigation was under way that he offered his services to Mississippi State University for the sum of between $120,000 and $180,000. Now, it turned out that Cam’s father Cecil was the one who was actually behind this and the son had absolutely no idea this was happening. BULLSHIT!!! I have an extremely difficult time believing this story. It just doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

All of this leads to the NFL combine. After Cam won the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship, he was thought to be heading towards a top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. While being interviewed at the combine, he actually told Peter King of Sports Illustrated that he sees himself “not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon”. I do believe that maybe this was blown way out of proportion, but it wasn’t the smartest thing to say when trying to convince teams to take a chance on you and invest millions of dollars.

Now, after all the previous issues on the table and the fact that many believe Cam’s father may be a little to involved, he is still projected to go either number 1 or 2 in the draft. Those racist bastards.

So the question to ask is why Warren Moon felt he needed to come out and say that all the negative reviews that Newton has gotten so far are because of race? It’s pretty simple actually. The sad truth is because it was the easiest thing to do. It was much easier to say that these scouts are racist than to have Newton take accountability for the mistakes he has made.

Don’t believe me? Go back and try to find an a statement or an interview where Newton has ever admitted to stealing the laptop, or cheating at Florida, or being apart of the Pay-to-Play scandal. Unless I missed something, you won’t find any. In fact, Newton has staunchly denied any involvement with the Mississippi State scandal and placed any an all blame on his father while consistently avoiding any questions by reporters on the topic.

If Cam Newton had come out and took responsibility for his actions and the choices he made, wouldn’t that put to rest some of the things that have come into question about his character. He was young and stupid. Yes, he made some mistakes and is willing to own up to them. We love second and third and fourth chances in this country. I would think that the NFL personnel would maybe change their minds about him. Maybe look at him a little differently. Instead, he just looks like a child who would rather point fingers in a different direction and Warren Moon is right there helping to do the same thing.

NFL scouts and GMs and coaches are all desperately trying to avoid drafting the next Pac Man Jones. Jones has been pretty much a complete headache for teams since being drafted. He has had numerous run ins with the law and has been in and out of the legal system as well as being suspended from the football for the entire 2007 and part of the 2008 season. He also had been in trouble while playing football for the University of West Virginia. The red flags were there. In spite of the issues in college, the Tennessee Titans drafted him sixth overall. With all being said and done, it’s most likely safe to say that the Titans would have used that draft pick on someone else. Where there is smoke, there is fire and the Titans got burned.

Jones was a cornerback too. Not a quarterback. Jones didn’t play the most important position on a football field. Jones wasn’t pegged to be a leader of men. Cam Newton does play quarterback and will be expected to lead men on the football field. He has to have a certain level of maturity and self-discipline to be a great quarterback and so far he hasn’t shown that he has those characteristics. The most important position is going to be by far under the most scrutiny and that is the situation that Cam Newton is in now.

In a league where the large majority of players are African-American, I find it patiently absurd that scouts, general managers, and coaches take race into the equation when evaluating a potential draft pick. I mean, Akili Smith and Jamarcus Smith were both taken 3rd and 1st overall respectively. In Moon’s day, race definitely played a role, especially when it came to quarterbacks. That was also some 20 years ago. Not only as society changed, but so has football.

 Maybe that this is what this whole thing is about. Maybe Moon still holds some bitterness over the way he was treated when he was coming up. It’s hard to blame him actually. I would probably still be a little upset if I were him. But just because he was profiled because of his race, doesn’t mean the same thing is now happening with Newton.

I realize that part of this also be that Moon is trying to stand up for his “client” and tying to deflect some of the negative attention that has been surrounding Newton. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it has just created even more negative attentions. Especially when Ryan Mallet’s character have come under question and scouts were saying very similar things about Jimmy Clausen last year.

Maybe I’m naive or ignorant or uninformed, but I think this kind of thing just ends up creating more harm than good. It ends up creating more racial division than needs to be. It moves us as a society backward not forward, in the direction we need to be moving. I think we can do better than this. I think instead of immediately crying racism, maybe take a second and examine if there are any factors in play that may make more sense. Maybe if we do this, we can realize that not everything is based upon prejudice. That maybe a person’s character is judged by his actions, not by the color of his or her skin.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78FATeTMDaA

Uncertain Future

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by Joe

The NFL’s labor issue was something that I had initially wanted to stay away from. The topic has and will continue to be beaten into the ground. Also, I am in no way informed enough to really break down the issues that plague the owners and the players. However, with a possible lockout of the players being only two days away and the recent court decision that was made that definitely favors the players, I finally balked and decided I wanted to speak my peace.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) officially ends on March 4th. The options with the deadline are either that the owner’s lock the players out, the CBA is extended, the players decertify(not really sure how this would play out), or both sides decide on a resolution to this mess and we can focus on the draft and the coming season. Since there is pretty much only a 0.05% chance that both sides will come to an agreement by Friday, we are looking at either a lockout or extension.

It’s to early for a lockout. I don’t believe the owner’s will take that step this early in the process. So that means extension of the current CBA. So that’s good news right? Wrong. All that really means is the owner’s are delaying the lockout. It’s coming. As sure as Summer will be here before we know it. The simple reason I believe this is because of the ego’s and greed that are involved in this current mess.

Like I said, I would be lying if I sat here and tried to tell you I knew the in’s and out’s of what was going on with the labor issue. As I see it, it comes down to the owner’s think the players are making too much money and want a larger slice of the pie than they currently have. The basic premise of how the business side of the NFL works is that the players and owners share the revenue made by the product they sell. When the current CBA was signed, the players got a larger slice of that pie. Now it is time for retribution.

 The entire reason why unions were formed was because the workers were tired of getting hosed by the owner’s and management. Most industries that have unions (steel workers, auto workers, etc) had at one point in time deplorable working conditions and got paid scraps. Look at the steel worker’s in particular. Back in early to mid 1900’s, these guys worked in mills where the temperature hovered above 100 degrees. They inhaled all kinds of fumes that floated in the air. There was always a chance of not only hearing loss, but being burned and a very serious chance of either losing a limb or dying. The men who walked out of those gates every day after working 12 hour sifts were beaten down and exhausted. And for all their hard work, sacrifice, and risk of life and limb, the money they made was barely enough to cover their living expenses.

Management didn’t care. They were in the business for one reason and one reason only, to make as much money as possible. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by creating a product that everyone needs and wants, selling a ton of it, and producing this product with as little expense as possible. This is all obviously very common sense. The only issue with management’s style was that the workers were getting sick of it. They were tired of working long and hard hours and getting paid as little as possible. Their solution was to band together and demand a better work environment and higher pay. If they didn’t get what they wanted then they would strike.

The history of unions in this country is a long and a bloody one. At times they have gotten out of control but you can’t argue with the fact that they helped paved the way for a better life for the generations of people who have come after them. The NFL players formed a union in 1956. However, the basically had zero power. That is until 1968 when they finally pushed for a new CBA. Since then the NFLPA has grown in size and strength. They have fought for many important steps in what has made the NFL what it is today, like free agency.

Just like any other union, the players have decided to strike on a couple of occasions. However, there hasn’t been a strike or lockout since 1987. This is incredibly impressive considering that every other professional sports league in the US has had a work stoppage that have forced the leagues to miss playing their championships. The fact that the NFL has avoided a strike or lockout is one of the contributing factors in why the league has grown in popularity.

 In 1994, Major League Baseball players decided to strike. It was the eight work stoppage in league history and it did unbelievable harm to the league as a whole. It turned off a lot of fans who were mad that these guys, who were making millions of dollars, when they decided they weren’t making enough money. They took the sport away from the fans and you can argue that the league has never been the same. What was once considered America’s pastime has now been replaced by football.

Which is the reason why I am having trouble figuring out how the owner’s could be stupid enough to ruin a great thing. The general rule is that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and the NFL ain’t broke. It is not only the most successful sports league but it is one of the most successful business’s in America. They increase their market share and revenue every year. Take a look at the television ratings for a Sunday and Monday night game. They are off the charts. With the ever-increasing access that the internet provides and the growing popularity of fantasy football, the NFL has become a giant in the world of sports and entertainment. If the NHL is David, then the NFL is Goliath on steroids (that may have not been the best analogy or metaphor or whatever that is considered).

The owner’s have claimed that they are losing money. I will buy the fact that aren’t making as much money as they want to but I think it’s total BS that they are actually losing money. The players want the owner’s to open up their books and prove this but for many reasons the owner’s aren’t willing to do this, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you are losing money and want to take money away from the players to help stabilize the company and keep it going then prove it. This feels like the owner’s are crying wolf. While I’m sure they aren’t making as much money as they once were, don’t go saying you are losing money. The Green Bay Packers, who are the only publicly held company in sports reported an operating profit of $9.8 million dollars. Now this is actually down from the previous year in which they reported a profit of $20.1 million the previous year. The reason, the Packers say, is because of increasing player costs.

This is where I can sort of see the owner’s point, although I  think they have presented it in a bad way. To you and me, $9.8 millions dollars is a ton of money, but in the grand scheme of business, this isn’t that impressive of a return on an investment and we need to be honest with ourselves, this is a business. Jerry Jones and Pat Bowlen don’t buy teams to win. They buy teams to make money. Winning just helps to bring in more money. I’m sure some of the small market teams are in fact losing money. If the Packers “only” made $9.8 million, then teams like the Jaguars or Panthers are sure to be either barely staying in the black or are dipping into the red.

The owner’s may end up feeling like the best way for them to get their point across is to lock out the players. Yesterday, I thought for sure that this was going to happen. I didn’t think the players would bend too much and give back money and the owner’s weren’t going to stand for that. I mean, the players have a lot more to lose. The owner’s are wealthy and they are going to continue to be wealthy. The players are rich and considering somehow a lot of these guys manage to actually live paycheck to paycheck, missing those bonuses and game checks could be really costly. However, the promising development occurred that may push the owner’s to make a deal. The courts ruled that the owner’s could not collect the television money from the networks in the case of a lockout.

Profootballtalk.com does a great job of breaking down the ruling (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/03/02/in-hindsight-dotys-ruling-was-a-no-brainer/#more-114582) which unless you are a University of Duquesne law student, reading and interpreting the actual language in the ruling can be confusing. Basically, the ruling says that the owner’s left money on the table in order for a “take it or leave it” deal that guaranteed that the owner’s would still get money from the networks in case of the lockout in which they only had to pay about half of it back. The reason this was a no-no, was because the players union expects the owner’s to make the best possible deal for both parties and the owner’s actually accepted less money to get the deal they wanted. This means that the owner’s won’t be getting the money they were hoping for to help pay the bills since they won’t be making any money for playing football.

The crappy thing about all of this, and the difference between the strike in baseball and a possible lockout in football, is that a lockout won’t change anything. When the baseball players decided to strike, baseball was on a bit of a down turn at the time. People were already starting to fade a little and a strike which ended up cancelling the World Series pushed fans over the edge. They were angry and in anger they decided that if the powers that be didn’t care about them, then they could turn away from the powers. We heard about a lot of people who stopped following baseball, even if just for a season. That’s not going to happen with football. Right now football is at its apex of strength. Sure, we are all going to be mad if there isn’t any football come fall. We will huff and puff and throw a tantrum but the second that the kickers foot makes contact with the football at the start of a real game then we all will be back. Some my hold out longer, but eventually we will all be back. The players and owners understand this. For a lot of us, football is like a drug, it’s hard to live without.

Friday is going to come and go and we will be no closer to a resolution. At this point, nothing is really at stake. There is no need for any urgency. We are still over a month away from the draft and several months away from the start of training camp. At this point the only ones who will really suffer are the either the young teams or teams with new coaching staffs. They won’t be able to work together and get ready to prepare for a new season. So not only is there uncertainty for us as fans, but there is high level of uncertainty for the players and coaches.

No matter what, the show will go on. We may miss some games but I’m fully convinced that there will be football next season. There is to much at stake not to get a deal worked out and get the season under way. In this situation, I may have to side more with the players. I understand they are trying to get as much money as they can. Their careers are short and full of danger. With no guaranteed contracts, one bad hit and that could be it. Peyton Manning may be able to play for 20 years, but the Colts will be around much longer. The owner’s need to understand that they have such a good thing going. All they need to do is look at the other major sports leagues to realize how good they have it. I just hope they take that look before we start losing games.

A Sensitive Subject

Posted in Rants and Random Thoughts, Sports with tags , , , on February 23, 2011 by Joe

Let’s have an honest and frank discussion about what is usually off the table when it comes to dinner conversations, Race. Much like politics and religion, the topic of race makes a lot of people very uncomfortable, and understandably so. Nobody wants to say the wrong thing and look like a racist with hatred in their heart. Words and thoughts can easily be misconstrued and twisted into meaning something other than what the person actually meant it to be. Friendships and relationships can be destroyed.

The reason I decided to jump onto this subject was because of an article a friend of mine sent to me the other day by Buzz Bissinger. Bissinger asserts that the reason basketball is not as popular as it once was (attendance has been way down over the last couple of years and teams are losing money hand over fist) is because of racism. His main point is that white people have an issue following a sport in which there are really no superstars that share the same pasty complexion. Buzz writes:

But a major problem with the NBA, one that is virtually never spoken about honestly, is the issue of race. I have no hard-core evidence. But based on my past experience in writing about sports, I know that whites ascribe very different characteristics to black athletes than they do white ones. I also make a habit of asking every white sports fan I know whether they watch the NBA. In virtually every instance, they say they once watched the game but no longer do. When I ask them if it has anything to do with the racial composition, they do their best to look indignant. But my guess is they felt very differently about the game when Larry Bird and John Stockton were playing.

You have to admit, it’s an interesting point. I just don’t necessarily believe it.

While we have finally started to move in the right direction, racism unfortunately still exists in this country. Especially more so in certain areas of the country (The South). However, I find it hard to believe that the reason white people aren’t following basketball as much as they used to is because of the absence of a white superstar and because of racism. Basketball’s market share is dwindling because of more than just race being an issue.

The definition of racism according to Merriam-Webster is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. With that definition in mind, it seems as if Bissinger is saying that white people don’t watch basketball because black people are better at the sport and it makes whitey uncomfortable.

The reason I wanted to post something about this is because he is basically talking about me. I’m not a pro basketball fan, never really have been. Is that because I hate black people? Is it because there isn’t anyone in the league dropping triple doubles every night that looks like me? The very simple answer to both of those questions is a resounding NO.

So why don’t I follow professional basketball? Two reasons.

The first and main reason is because I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s football country, not basketball. We didn’t and still don’t have a pro basketball team. Basketball just wasn’t really around when I was an adolescent. There was college basketball and the Pitt Panthers, but they weren’t very good when I was young. Although I do watch college basketball now, especially during March Madness which is one of the greatest sporting events we have. I fell in love with football because of the Steelers, hockey because of the Penguins, and baseball because of the Pirates (who are now dead to me). What basketball team was I supposed to root for?

The second reason is because basketball just isn’t compelling to me. I could never get into it. It never really grew on me. Of course I could sit and watch Jordan in his prime. That was mostly because he was an athletic freak. He was just so much better and smarter than everyone else and could do things on the basketball court that were unimaginable. Much the same way as Lebron James does now. If I’m flipping channels and come across a guy like James or Blake Griffin playing, I’ll stop for a few minutes and watch for something amazing, but I won’t stay to long because eventually I get bored.

I love football because of the violence and beauty of the sport. 11 guys trying to figure out what the other 11 guys are going to do and seeing how they can beat them. In football the team concept works its magic. Of course you can have one guy who can dominate a game but if he doesn’t have the players around him working as a team, then it doesn’t matter how good that guy is. The same goes with hockey. One player cannot dominate a game. This doesn’t hold true for basketball. A perfect example is the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are two years removed from making it to the NBA finals and were a consistent playoff contender with James. Now look at them. Since Lebron “took his talents to South Beach”, the Cavs at one point had dropped 26 straight games. Other than Lebron, not much changed. Maybe he couldn’t win a title with the correct role players around him but he could certainly make the playoffs. That doesn’t work in football or hockey. That’s my main issue with the sport.

Bissinger is most famous for his book, “Friday Night Lights”, in which he documents a season of high school football in West Texas. It was a fantastic book that took the reader into another world that most of us have never been in. While spending time in area and researching the book, he basically came across the good old boys who took racism to another level. Here’s what he wrote:

But I still believe race is a key deterrent in getting more whites reengaged and increasing interest. It has to do with racial stereotyping. Those stereotypes are wrong. They are malicious. But to act is if they do not exist is disingenuous. When I wrote the book Friday Night Lights about high-school football in Texas, I saw the racial stereotypes of some whites up close—their firm belief that white athletes admirably succeeded because of hustle and hard work and brains, and black athletes succeeded solely on the basis of pure athletic skill. In other words, white athletes virtuously worked their tails off whereas black athletes simply coasted because they can.

He is right in saying that acting like those stereotypes do not exist is naive and/or disingenuous. There are people out there who definitely believe these stereotypes to be true. There are small-minded people out there who don’t like black people, Asians, Homosexuals, or Mexicans. There are plenty of ignorant people in this world and there will most likely always be ignorant people in the world. However, not everyone is like that. In fact, I think the vast majority of people don’t believe in these stereotypes.

Are there black athletes who skate by on pure athletic skill and don’t put in the extra work? Absolutely. You can find them in every sport. Vince Young immediately comes to mind.  A guy with fantastic skills and who is a pure athlete that doesn’t want to put in the work that it takes to become a great quarterback. I mention Young because Bissinger makes the point that while the majority of the talent in the NFL is black, it doesn’t have the same perception that the NBA does because “the game is predicated on brute strength that is impossible to fake, there is rarely any grumbling that African-American athletes are not trying hard enough”. He also mentions that the majority of marquee athletes are white like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers. I don’t think the reason that Peyton Manning is better than Young is because the color of his skin but because he works harder than Young. He spends countless hours in the film room preparing for the next game. He puts in the extra work that separates him from other players like Young.

For every player like Young, there are 10 more like James Harrison, Donovan McNabb, or guys like Kobe Bryant in the NBA. Guys that are incredibly gifted athletes who put in the extra time to make themselves even better. The article mentions how McNabb received a ton of criticism for never being able to win the Super Bowl. Despite going to five NFC Championships and one Super Bowl. While there are some people who think McNabb never won the Super Bowl because of intelligence, most people “loath” McNabb because he couldn’t actually win that big game. People heap criticism on him for getting so close and always coming up short. Peyton Manning gets the same treatment. In one breath they will mention how good he is and the next they will talk about how he always comes up short in the big game. No matter if you are black or white or brown or green or yellow or whatever, winning will draw love and losing will draw animosity.

I think the reason that some people follow some sports and not other is availability. Just like I mentioned earlier that the main reason I don’t follow pro basketball is because I didn’t grow up with it. I think the same parallels can be drawn with hockey. While hockey is growing in popularity, it is still a bit of a niche sport. Of the four major sports leagues (no, I’m not counting soccer of the WNBA), hockey has by far the smallest market share.

While Bissinger makes the point that white people don’t follow basketball because of the lack of star white players, you could make the same exact point as to why more black people don’t follow hockey. While I concede that there are some white people and black people don’t watch either sport because of the point, the I think it’s larger than that.

It’s my opinion that more black people don’t watch or participate in hockey for that matter is because they didn’t grow up with. Just look at the majority of players in the NHL. Most are from Canada or other similar countries where the winter is longer and colder. They were given the opportunity to put on some skates, grab a stick and go play on a pond. You can’t really do that in Brooklyn.

Also, hockey is really expensive to play which is another obstacle to overcome for many people who even think about playing the sport. A lot of professional basketball players come from inner city neighborhoods and from background where money is limited. Basketball is relatively cheap sport to play. Put on a pair of basketball shoes and grab a basketball and you are good to go.

Hockey, just like football or baseball is more of a team sport. You can’t really throw a football or baseball to yourself. You can however go out on a court and shoot hoops all day long by yourself. This just goes back to my point about availability. It’s much easier to go out and get better basketball if you have the initial skills than it is for some other sports.

My last point is that Bissinger specifically mentions Larry Bird and John Stockton. These may have been the best two white players to every play the game and they played in an era when basketball was in its prime. I don’t believe for a second that the popularity of the NBA at that time was because of these guys. The NBA was still predominately African-American at the time and I firmly believe that racism was more prevalent during these times. Wouldn’t this counter to what he is saying?

The sport was more team oriented back then than it is now a days. There were team identities. The Celtics, the Bad Boy Pistons, The Knicks, the Showtime Lakers. There were also real rivalries. Teams and players genuinely hated one another. It makes the sport so much more interesting. Now you have superstars teaming up with another to form a semi dream team. Add in the fact that ticket prices have increased significantly, and you can see why a decline in interest is happening.

Like I said earlier, I’m positive there are some  white people out there who hate basketball because there aren’t more white superstars and the game is dominated by African-Americans. They are called racists. It’s unfortunate that there are still people out there like that. However, I also thinks it’s unfortunate that when trying to explain something we throw out the race card. It’s such an easy excuse. Not everything comes down to race. Sometimes it does, but not always. Things are more complicated than that.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2011 by Joe

Uggggggh. Now that I have had an entire day to process the events of Sunday night, I’m still upset. I had originally planned on writing a review of the game yesterday but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. If you live under a rock and don’t know, the Packers won, the Steelers lost , and Aaron Rodgers was the Super Bowl 45 MVP.

It was a game that was full of up and downs. One minute I would think the Packers were going to run away with it and the next, the Steelers would come storming back to make a game of it.

Ben Roethlisberger helped the Packers jump out to a 21-3 lead late into the 2nd quarter after throwing 2 interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. When it looked as if all hope was lost, Ben guided the Steelers down the field and made it a 21-10 game with 39 seconds left after a touchdown pass to Hines Ward. It looked as if the momentum had changed. Not only did the Steelers make it a 11 point game, the Packers also lost Sam Shields, Nick Collins, and most importantly for the Steelers offense, Charles Woodson. Of the three, only Collins would come back in the second half.

Like I said, the momentum was on the Steelers side. Rashard Mendenhall made it a 4 point game five minutes into the third with a 8 yard touchdown run. The Steelers looked dominate. After a defensive stop, the Steelers got the ball back in great field position and moved down to the Packers 33. The Steelers were driving, had all the momentum, and looked as if they were going to take their first lead of the game. Then it all changed. Clay Matthews stripped Mendenhall of the ball. Turnover. Packers ball. Game.

I know it was still a four point game in the third quarter when Mendenhall fumbled the ball, but it didn’t matter. Aaron Rodgers was just to good. He capped off one of the best postseason a quarterback has ever had with a 24/39, 309 yard, 3 touchdown game. He was just tremendous.

My post last week broke down each team position by position. I said that the biggest liability of the Steelers was the secondary. Rodgers exploited the Steelers weakness to perfection. You really couldn’t have asked for a better game from the quarterback. Even though his receivers tried to let him down by dropping some big passes, Rodgers never wavered and made every big throw he needed to. With the Packers leading the Steelers 21-17 and Mendenhall turning the ball over, Rodgers led the Pack down the field and completed a 8 yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. The Steelers wouldn’t recover.

You couldn’t expect the Steelers to recover. You cannot turn the ball over three times against a team of Green Bay’s caliber and expect to win. You just can’t. Not when Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback and has picked apart the defense all game long.

Not only do you have to give Rodgers a ton of credit, but you have to give the Packer’s offensive line a ton of credit to. They kept the pressure off him most of the game, allowing only 3 sacks. Rodgers had time to stand in the pocket and find the open receiver.

It was admirable that the Steelers kept fighting. They just wouldn’t give up. Considering they were down 21-3 at one point in the first half of the game, it was actually pretty impressive that they still had a chance to win the game at the end. Big Ben was solid in the second half. He completed a 25 yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace to close the gap. After converting the two point conversion, the Steelers were actually only down 3 points.

The Packers got a field goal with a little over 2 minutes remaining the game to make it a 31-25 game and the Steelers would get the ball back to win another Super Bowl on a last-minute drive. I was confidant once again. We had seen this movie before. The ball was in Ben’s hands and he was more than capable of driving the Steelers down the field and throwing the game ending touchdown.

The 4th down pass to Wallace fell to the ground incomplete. It was over. The Packers celebrated and hoisted the Lombardi trophy for the fourth time in franchise history. The nightmares from the Steelers Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys came flooding back

We can sit here and talk about how good Aaron Rodgers was. Or how good the Packers offensive line played. Or the great game plan that Mike McCarthy put together. However, for me, it all comes back to 21 points off of 3 turnovers. You just can’t win a game when you play like that.

The Steelers did a lot of good things on that Sunday. The line, especially Doug Legursky, played very well. Mendenhall did make some nice runs. Wallace played great and Hines Ward made another strong case for being considered a Hall of Famer. But Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu were invisible. Mike Tomlin’s decision to try that field goal was just down right dumb. And two interceptions and a fumble, all of which ended up turning into points for the Packers made the difference. On this particular Sunday, the Packers deserved to win the game.

This loss will brew for a while, especially if there is a labor stoppage and we don’t have football to look forward to. It just something we Steelers fans are going to have to live with. It hurts now, and the pain will eventually go away, just not anytime soon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14eFtsB0mYo

Super Bowl 45 (XLV)

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , on February 3, 2011 by Joe

It’s that time of year again. When the two best teams in the NFL square off to determine who is number 1. My hometown and beloved Pittsburgh Steelers go up against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in Dallas. The Super Bowl is one of the greatest events in sports and I get to watch MY team play in it for the fourth time now. I’ve only had to sit through one loss in my lifetime to the hated Cowboys and have gotten to see two wins. The game against the Arizona Cardinals was one of the most agonizing yet joyful games I’ve watched as a Steelers fan.  

I was pretty young when the Steelers played the Cowboys so I don’t remember the run up to that game very well but I do remember the last two like they happened yesterday and I didn’t feel all that nervous for either of them. However, I do feel really nervous about this one. I really like the Packers. In fact, I actually picked them to win the Super Bowl before the season started. Now I have to watch them play the Steelers. The Packers are a great team and they scare me.

I think that I can maybe quell that fear a little by breaking down each position group against position group. Here is a shot in the dark.

Quarterback

I will start at the most important position in football. Ben Roethlisberger vs Aaron Rodgers. This is a tough one to judge. Both are top five quarterbacks in the league.

Aaron Rodgers has been a fast riser. Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for the first three seasons of his career. Since Brett Favre “retired” then went on to play for the Jets, Rodgers has come off the bench and has never looked back. Aaron Rodgers is 27-20 over the last three seasons and has managed to put up huge numbers including 12,723 yards passing, 87 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 98.4. I think it’s safe to say that you want the guy on your fantasy football team. The Green Bay Packers have a great team and it all starts at the top with Rodgers.

Say what you want about Big Ben the person (trust me when I say that I hate the person but cheer for the jersey), but you can’t deny what the guy does on the football field. He knows how to win games and if you need a scoring drive in the last two minutes, you want the ball in his hands. Ben doesn’t necessarily have the big passing numbers that Rodgers does, but it doesn’t really matter when the game is on the line. As a starter, Roethlisberger is 69-29 in the regular season and 8-2 in the playoffs. He also has those two Super Bowl rings to show for himself. Ben is the toughest quarterback in the NFL to bring down and he has frustrated so many opposing defenses when it looks as if he is going to be sacked and gets out of it and makes a huge completion. While he hasn’t had the most dominating of games in these playoffs, he has come through every time the Steelers desperately needed a big play.

Rodgers is one of the best in the game. He has a big arm, can make every throw a quarterback needs to make and can get out of the pocket and make plays with his feet. The Packers would not have gotten this far without him and he should be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the game. With that said, I have to give the nod to Big Ben here. Only because he has been here before. Roethlisberger had one of his best games as a professional in the Super Bowl against the Cardinals. He has shown the big game and the spotlight doesn’t affect his game and he won’t shrink from the pressure. The countless big wins and two Super Bowl rings give the Steelers the advantage at the top position.

Advantage: Steelers

Running Back

Packers fans breathed a sigh of relief when James Starks, the 6th round pick out of the University of Buffalo, had the game of his career in the wild card game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a much-needed improvement in the running game that relied pretty heavily on fullback John Kuhn and Brandon Jackson who had 3.3 and 3.7 yards per rush respectively. Considering Aaron Rodgers had the second most rushing yards on the team, it’s safe to say that the Green Bay rushing game was pretty bad. In fact, Green Bay was 24th the league with only 100.4 rushing yards per game. The Packers running game suffered tremendously when the starting running back, Ryan Grant, when down for the season in the first game with an injury. They just couldn’t get anything going all year until Starks blew up for over 140 yards rushing in that game against the Eagles. However, since that game, Starks has come back down to earth and once again the Pack have had to rely, like all season, on Rodgers arm.

For the Steelers, Rashard Mendenhall had the best season of his young career. Mendenhall rushed for 1273 yards and 13 touchdowns this season behind a suspect offensive line. The one knock on Rashard is that at times he looks tentative running through the hole. Instead of just seeing the hole and exploding through it (get your mind out of the gutter), he will take a step to the left or right before going up field. This most likely has something to do with his pedestrian, 3.9 yards per attempt. The Steelers have had success running the football this year as they have ranked 11th in the NFL in running yards per game with 120.3. The Steelers running game is not what it once was, but is still effective when it needs to be.

The lack of running game for the Packers is troublesome as it makes their team a bit one-dimensional. They will have to rely heavily on Rodgers making plays which can be an issue against a tough Steelers defense that is hard to run against in the first place. The Packers have proven that they are up to task though. In the NFC Championship game, the Chicago Bears did a great job of shutting down the running game and limiting what Rodgers could do but they still came out victorious. The Steelers showed the strength of their running game in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens with Mendenhall breaking the 100 yard mark in the first half of the game, leading the Steelers to 24-3 halftime lead. The weakness in the running game is the Steelers offensive line. They are a make shift unit at this point and with a tough Green Bay run defense, the Steelers running game may have trouble getting traction. When comparing the two units, you just can’t throw out that Green Bay was 24th in rushing, while the Steelers were 11th.

Advantage: Steelers

Wide Receivers:

Green Bay may have one of the best receiving groups in the NFL. There isn’t really anything not to like. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson are all receivers that can come up big and make plays when needed. They are just so difficult to defend against. If you take one receiver out of the game, Rodgers can pick apart the secondary with another. Driver and Nelson are great possession receivers who can catch the underneath route, get yards after the catch and move the chains. Jennings and Jones are the deep threats that can beat a defense over the top. Just think how much better this already great receiving group would be if they hadn’t loss Jermichael Finley for the season. It’s no surprise that the Packers hung 48 points on the Falcons and Rodgers threw for 3 touchdown passes.

The Steelers have trusted wide receiver Hines Ward, who at 35 is still capable of playing quality football. It’s true that he has lost a step, but he is still a punishing blocker that is great at moving the chains and hanging on to a tough catch, smiling all the while. On the other side of the field is the speedster, Mike Wallace. Wallace had his first 1000 yard season and his 21 yards per catch is near the top of the NFL. Wallace has proven difficult to defend against this season and forces opposing defenses to keep a safety deep which helps open up the underneath routes and running game. At the tight end position, the under the radar Heath Miller is another solid target for Ben. He is sure handed an another weapon at the Steelers disposal that is great in the red zone and it a tough matchup for an opposing defense. Then there are the rookies, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. They have both turned out to be solid draft picks, especially Sanders. Brown came up with that huge catch against the Ravens on 4th down which helped to send the Steelers to the AFC Championship game where Sanders came up with the game icing reception against the Jets.

The Steelers receivers have shown that they can hang with the best of them and should be a threat for years to come. Wallace has done a great job at replacing Santonio Holmes (who was traded to the Jets in the off-season) and it looks as if the Steelers finally have a replacement in place for Ward when he finally decides to retire. They don’t drop many balls and Ben has shown complete trust in them over the course of the season. Outside of Ward and Miller though, they are pretty unexperienced and young and it’s going to be interesting to see if playing in a game of this caliber is going to affect them. The Packers receivers have proven that they are some of the best in football and are a big reason they are playing in the Super Bowl. It is so hard to defend against them as anyone of them can come with a play when needed. Jennings could be a number 1 receiver for any team in the league and the rest of those guys could start at the number 2 spot for any team as well.

Advantage: Packers

Offensive Line

Next to the running back position, this is the one of the biggest question marks for the Green Bay Packers. They were 11th in the league in sacks allowed with 38 and according to Football Outsiders (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol), they were ranked 23rd in run blocking and 21st in pass blocking. Even though they lost Ryan Grant during the first game of the season, a part of the reason they have trouble running the ball is because of their line. If the Packers are going to have success moving the ball, their offensive line is going to have to step up. The line is rather young and inexperienced and for the Packers to succeed, they are going to have to hold off a tough Steelers defense.

The same goes for the Pittsburgh Steelers whose offensive line is just as bad. With the loss of surprising rookie center, Maurkice Pouncey, the offensive line took yet another step backwards. Injury as decimated an already questionable line throughout the season. Not only will Pouncey most likely miss the Super Bowl, so will left tackle Max Starks and Willie Colon. Having to put my trust in Doug Legursky at center makes me nervous. The Steelers offensive line allowed 43 sacks during the regular season, good for 8th in the league. Football Outsiders has them ranked 19th in run blocking and 29th in pass blocking.

Both offensive lines are a concern and both will most likely have the biggest impact on this game. Which offensive line holds up against a tough defense will be a big key to this game and will help to determine who wins Super Bowl 45. In this category, it’s not necessarily about who is better but about which one is worse. There is such a fine line between the two teams, it’s nearly impossible to tell.

Advantage: Push

Defensive Line

 Just like the Steelers, the Packers run a traditional 3-4 defense the majority of the time that includes massive nose tackle, BJ Raji. Raji made the key play in the win over the Bears with his interception returned for a touchdown which proved to be the winning points. The Green Bay defensive line was terrific against the pass this year. As a team they recorded 47 sacks and were ranked 4th by Football Outsiders against the pass. They were great against the pass but struggled with run defense. They were 18th in the league against the run, allowing 114.9 yards per game. Green Bay’s defense should be able to get plenty of pressure on Roethlisberger but will need to shut down the Steelers running game to be successful. The matchup that may work in the Packers favor is Raji against Legursky.

The Steelers had the best defense is the league this year and it all starts with their line. Big Casey Hampton anchors the defensive line and forces two offensive lineman to block him. Brett Keisel’s beard plays the end and he is one of the most underappreciated defensive ends in the game. On the other side is Ziggy Hood. It looked like trouble when Aaron Smith went down early in the season like last year, when the defense struggled, especially closing out games. Ziggy Hood stepped in and has been terrific for the Steelers defense all season and has come up big so far in the postseason. Like the Packers, the defensive line is not expected to get much pressure on the quarterback. They are mostly asked to take up blockers, allowing the linebackers to get into the backfield. The Steelers had the best run defense in football, and like I said earlier, it all starts up front.

Advantage: Steelers (only slightly)

Linebackers

This is where the true strength of both of these defenses lie. The Packers have one of the best linebackers in football in Clay Matthews. Matthews has been an absolute machine this year, recording 13.5 sacks, and was runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers offense will need to know where he is on every play. He is a game changer. Losing Nick Barnett certainly hurt the defense, but A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, and Erik Walden have picked up the slack created by Barnett’s absence. These are two of the top defenses in the league and part of that is because the linebackers are able to create so much pressure on the quarterback. Blocking this linebacker core is going to be a challenge for the Steelers.

It seems that every year, we are talking about the Steelers linebackers. Going all the way back to Jack Lambert and Gregg Lloyd, the Steelers linebackers are usually some of the best in the business. This year is no different. LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, and James Harrison are a formidable foursome. The Steelers linebackers have accounted for 29.5 sacks of the Steelers 48 sacks this season. Because of Dick Lebeau’s creative defensive schemes, the opposing offensive has no idea where the rush is coming from. All four of these linebackers are great at confusing the offensive line and getting after the quarterback as well as dropping into coverage.

Both defenses have a great linebacker unit, but it’s hard not to give the Steelers the nod here. The Steelers allowed only 62.8 rushing yards per game and 14.5 points per game. They also had one more sack in the regular season than the Packers did and it’s because of front seven. Both of these defenses are difficult to play against.

Advantage: Steelers

Secondary

The Packers secondary is one of the team’s biggest strengths. They are 1st in opposing passer rating at 67.2 and 5th in the league with 194 passing yards allowed per game. Their previously unknown corners, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have really stepped up this season. Add in Pro Bowl cornerback, Charles Woodson and this team is extremely difficult to throw against. The Packers defensive front is so good at getting pressure on the opposing quarterback that Green Bay can go to a nickel or dime formation and confuse the opposing team.

While the Packers secondary is a strength, outside of Troy Polamalu, the Steelers secondary is a liability. Ryan Clark is a solid free safety but he sometimes goes for the big hit instead of the smart play and gets caught out of position. Bryan McFadden is easy to beat, especially deep and I anticipate Rodgers attacking him and William Gay all game long. Ike Taylor is definitely capable of making big plays but is prone to making stupid mistakes. As mentioned, Polamalu can make up for the weakness in the other members of the secondary. Rodgers is going to have to know where he is on every single play. He had 7 interceptions this season, even though he missed 2 games, and can also come up and play the run. If the Packers can neutralize Troy, then I think Rodgers can have a solid game against the Steelers secondary.

While Green Bay may not have had a great season stopping the run, they were fantastic against the pass. They are capable of making that big play and changing the course of the game. The Steelers are going to have to run to set up the pass and Big Ben is going to have to protect the football and not making any mistakes.

Advantage: Packers

Special Teams

I’m not going to go into much detail other than to say I trust Mason Crosby, especially in-doors, more than Shaun Suisham. Suisham has been actually pretty good since the Steelers signed him after cutting Jeff Reed but I still can’t get watching him kick for the Redskins out of my mind. The Steelers have also be known to blow assignments on punt and kick return coverage as evidenced by almost allowing that punt return touchdown by the Ravens which would have put them right back in the game and could easily have changed the course of that game.

Advantage: Packers

Coaching

Mike McCarthy deserves to a lot of credit for guiding his team to the Super Bowl with all the injuries and setbacks the Packers have had this season. He was a career record of 48-32 in the five seasons he has coached the Packers including a 4-2 park in the playoffs.

Mike Tomlin is making his second Super Bowl appearance for the Steelers and he is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. He has benefited from having a great scouting department and front office but has still proven to be an excellent coach. Since taking over the Steelers after Bill Cowher retired, he has coached the Steelers to a 43-21 regular season record and is an impressive 5-1 in the playoffs.

I have to go with experience here and considering this is Tomlin’s second appearance in the big game and only McCarthy’s first, the edge goes to Tomlin. Add in the better regular season record and the horrible time management that McCarthy has shown over the years, it makes it even easier of  a decision.

Advantage: Steelers

So after breaking down the positions groups against one another, do I feel better about this game? Absolutely not. I think this Steelers team plays right into the hands of the Packers. Aaron Rodgers has the ability to pick apart the Steelers secondary and the Packer secondary has the ability to force Roethlisberger to make mistakes. I don’t think Green Bay will be able to run on the Steelers so that will force them to win the game on Rodgers arms. The Packers wide receivers should be able to get open against the Steelers corner’s and Jennings and Jones are going to have opportunities to beat them deep. One of my biggest concerns is the Steelers offense performing against Green Bay’s defense. Steelers offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians has been very unimaginative in his play calling this season. On top of that, I fear that Green Bay’s pass rush to going to terrorize Big Ben all game long. I fear that this game is going to play out the same way that the Packers-Bears game did. The Steelers defense will be able to keep the Packers offense in check for most of the game but Rodgers will make plays and Green Bay will put points on the board. I’m just not so sure that the Steelers will be able answer enough to win the game.

So who do I think will win? I’m afraid to say and quite honestly I’m not really sure. All I am sure of is that this is going to be a close, hard-fought game. I’m going to steal a cliché from John Madden and say whoever makes more plays is going to win. This game will come down to the defense. Who can force more turnovers and commit less penalties. No matter what, we should be in for an entertaining Super Bowl 45.

Mike McCarthy vs Vince Lombardi

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , , , on January 28, 2011 by Joe

I read an article the other week that nearly made me spit out the Mountain Dew that I was drinking. I couldn’t actually believe the words that I was reading. Jim Souhan, a columnist for the Star Tribune actually wrote that the current Green Bay Packers coach, Mike McCarthy, is a better coach than the immortal Vince Lombardi. You can check out the full article here http://www.startribune.com/sports/vikings/114175784.html but here is the opening statement he made:

“McCarthy will need to win about five Super Bowls before most Packers fans will elevate him to Lombardi’s exalted status. I say he’s already a better coach than Vinny, and any Packers fan who doesn’t agree should get with the century and embrace modern developments. Such as electricity, and the forward pass.”

 Maybe we should embrace giving Mr Souhan an electric shock instead. This is so absurd that I couldn’t let it go. It’s been simmering inside of me for a week. Now, I never saw Lombardi coach but I have seen McCarthy coach and lets just say that he has made a lot of curious calls at times.

Let’s take a couple of minutes and break down some of the arguments that were made that McCarthy is a better coach.

1.) Lombardi dominated the league at a time when teams played a 12 or 14 game regular season, needed only one or two wins in the playoffs to win a Championship and there were only 14-16 teams in the NFL at the time.

In the 10 years that Lombardi coached in the NFL, 2 of those season operated with a 12 game schedule after which the NFL moved to a 14 game schedule. Does the fact that McCarthy has to coach 2 more games each season or that he has to coach one or two more games in the postseason make that big of a difference?

Lombardi finished is coaching career with the Washington Redskins with a record of 96-34-6 and a winning percentage of 73.8%. The more impressive record is that he went 9-1 in the playoffs, winning 5 championships in the process, including 3 straight. He also won 9 straight playoff games, a record that wasn’t broken until this decade by Bill Belichick. In fact only two coaches, Guy Chamberlin and John Madden, have a better regular season winning percentage and no one has a better playoff winning percentage than good old Vince.

On the flip side, Mike McCarthy is 48-32 record with the Packers for a winning percentage of 60%. I’m not necessarily knocking McCarthy either because in today’s NFL, that is a really good record. He also did manage to lead his team to 3 playoff wins this season and a Conference Championship. However, before this season he was 1-2 in the playoffs and had only 1 Division Championship under his big belt.

I find it hard to believe that McCarthy would have any more success if the NFL all of a sudden went to a 14 game season and contracted the league to 16 teams. Especially considering in those 2 extra games he is most likely playing one of 12 horrible teams that populate the NFL ranks every season. Just take into consideration that the Packers get to play the Detroit Lions twice a year.

Also, the suggestion that it was easier to win the NFL Championship back then because you only had to win one or team times in a league with fewer teams is a stretch. That can easily be twisted around and say that it might be just as difficult considering fewer teams made the playoffs back in the day.  In 1963 Lombardi’s Packers went 11-2-1 and didn’t make the playoffs.

2.) The run game dominated the league and the forward pass was a second thought.

Wouldn’t this mean that it was harder to win in Lombardi’s time than today? The opposing defense only really had to focus on one aspect of the game, stopping the run. This means that Lombardi had to coach his team to perfection and design great running plays in order to win the game on the ground.

Souhan notes that when the Packers won the 1961 NFL Championship, they ranked 9th in a 14 team league with 168 yards passing per game. To put that in today’s context, the Pittsburgh Steelers ranked 14th in passing yards per game and are going to this years Super Bowl.

Lombardi won consistently with his run to perfection and antiquated “power sweep”. Every defense the Packers faced knew this play was going to be run over and over again yet none of them could stop it. Imagine if McCarthy kept running the same play action pass on every down. I think it is safe to say that the Packers wouldn’t be winning many games and McCarthy would be out of a job. Of course not before he fired his offensive coordinator.

Yes the NFL is a lot more complicated today and the playbook can sometimes be up to 500 pages thick, but all that means is that it is more difficult to figure out what the offense or defense is doing. Not really so in Lombardi’s time.

Lombardi won the same way many teams win today, by running the ball effectively and by having a great defense. His defense ranked in the top 3 of the league in defensive yards allowed in 7 of his 9 years as coach and his running offense ranked in the top 3 yards per game in 7 of his 9 years as well. Something the author for some reason failed to mention. I guess it didn’t have any bearing on comparing the two coaches.

3.) As Souhan puts it “In Lombardi’s NFL, he could line up his assortment of indentured Hall of Famers and run over the opposition” and that free agency or the salary cap did not exist yet.

This one is probably the most difficult to argue against actually and the only valid point that I believe Souhan makes, although there are some flaws. Before free agency and the salary cap was put into place, teams could put a strangle hold on their best players. There wasn’t hardly any turnover. The star running back didn’t jump ship to Chicago for more money. Like I just said, this was somewhat of a valid point but there are some flaws. Lets explore them.

First off, I can definitely argue that the reason Lombardi had so many Hall of Fame players is because he created them. He was an unbelievable motivator and got the most out of his players. I’m not saying that Bart Starr or Ray Nitschke or Paul Hornung wouldn’t have been great players if they didn’t play for Green Bay, but it’s just silly to think that Vince didn’t make them better players. He coached those players up and put them in a position to become winners.

Second, free agency works the other way too. Because of free agency, McCarthy can also bring in great players to fit his scheme every off-season, something Lombardi didn’t really have an option to do. Souhan writes that “McCarthy has been forced, because of free agency and injuries, to remake his team almost weekly.” Free agency has nothing to do with McCarthy having to remake his team on a weekly basis Jim. That once again is just a ridiculous statement. Mike isn’t losing his starting running back because of free agency in the middle of the season. 

I also love this quote by Souhan; “Lombardi relied on one Hall of Fame quarterback, Bart Starr. McCarthy reinvigorated one Hall of Famer, Brett Favre, and may have created another in Rodgers”. What does that even mean? I don’t even understand this argument from him. He starts one of his arguments that the Packers rarely passed then and that the quarterback was a glorified UPS delivery man. Isn’t he sort of contradicting himself there? I also don’t think McCarthy really “reinvigorated” Favre. He wasn’t there that long before he “retired” then went on to the New York Jets. By that token, Brad Childress got the most of Favre in Minnesota when he had his best year as a pro. I guess that means that Childress is a better coach than McCarthy. In regards to Rodgers, maybe McCarthy had a hand in developing him into the top 5 quarterback that he has become, but I think we may be giving the man too much credit.

4.) Physical Fitness and the Tough Guy

Souhan asserts the reason Lombardi’s Packers had such an advantage was that he made his team work out. He doesn’t really elaborate on this point other than the level of physical fitness is much greater in today’s game. Once again, I’m not really sure I understand his point here. If Lombardi’s team worked out harder than the rest of the teams in the league and got them in better shape, then that just means that Lombardi was better at pushing and motivating his players than other coaches in the league. I’m pretty sure that is what makes a good coach. I also find it hard to believe that the rest of the players in the league were not in that great of shape and didn’t work out. I will agree that the league has changed and athletes today (not just football players) are more physically fit than their predecessors but I’m not sure how this means that McCarthy is a better coach.

The other point here that Lombardi demanded toughness and players were expected to play through injuries that they wouldn’t be expected to play through today. Outside of concussions, most players are still expected to play through injuries today. Also, medicine has come a long way since Lombardi’s day. Players can now tear their ACL’s and come back 6-8 months later. If Nitschke had torn his ACL, it might have ended his career. McCarthy actually has more of an advantage in this category than Lombardi does. I’m sure Lombardi lost players to injury and he was forced to come up with a solution just like every other coach has.

5.) Lombardi’s Lambeau Field was different from today’s Lambeau Field and offered more of a home field advantage.

Lombardi had an advantage because the field wasn’t heated like it is today. Read that last sentence again. Yeah, Vince Lombardi won 5 championships and 73% of his games because it’s cold in Green Bay. He never coached a game on the road either. I bet you didn’t know that. Also, due to global warming, it’s now 80 degrees year round in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Packers no longer have to play the two dome teams in their division at Lambeau Field.

The point of this post wasn’t to sit here and blast Mike McCarthy. I think he is a good coach but I do also think he is a bit overrated. In the five years he has been head coach he as led the Packers to one Division Title. He definitely deserves credit for guiding his team past the division rivals Chicago Bears for the Conference Championship and a shot at a Super Bowl. With that said, McCarthy is considered one of  the poorer time managers in the game. Just take a look at the end of the Conference Championship game. The Packers up 21-14 with a few minutes left in the game and the Packers have the ball. Instead of running three straight plays to run down the clock and force the Bears to use their timeouts, he called three straight passes, all of which were incompletions. This gave the Bears a chance to tie the game, which they almost did until Caleb Hanie threw the game icing interception inside Packers territory. That is bad coaching. That’s just one example of some of those questionable calls I mentioned at the beginning of the post and this was in the biggest game of his coaching career up to that point.

Would Lombardi have made the same mistake in such a crucial moment? From everything I have read or seen about the man, I highly doubt it. He was a great coach who knew the game inside and out. He inherited a team that was terrible when he took over as coach and immediately turned the Packers around. Not only was he a great motivator and leader who demanded excellence from his players and got it, he was an innovator. He perfected the “power sweep” and introduced football to the zone blocking scheme which is still used by every football team today. Vince Lombardi helped to make the game what it is today.

Maybe Souhan had meant this article to be tongue in cheek and I just happened to miss it. I sincerely hope so because saying McCarthy is a better coach than Lombardi is just stupid and shows that the man knows absolutely nothing about football or its history. Maybe we can have this debate again in 10 years once McCarthy has lifted the Lombardi Trophy over his head for the fourth or fifth time but until then, the idea that he is a better coach than Mr. Lombardi is laughable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtY8x9PoTXc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpBKzjkpX0Y&feature=related