Sunday, April 29, 2012

Knee Buckled Playoffs

The landscape of the NBA playoffs took an unfortunate turn yesterday as 2011 NBA MVP and Bulls superstar Derrick Rose tore his ACL late in a game 1 victory.  True basketball fans everywhere and especially Bulls fans throughout the world held their breath as one of the best players in the game laid on the court in pain.  The prospects of Chicago's playoff run just went from champions to chumps. 

As much as I respect Coach Thibs and the coaching job he did this season ,with Derrick missing game after game with injury after injury, I just don't see the Bulls going past round 2 of the playoffs without D-Rose.  I still think they have enough to beat the 76ers in round 1 but nothing past that.  This team has bought into Thib's team concept and defensive schemes but at the end of the day you need a closer.  Derrick is a closer.

This Bulls roster is full of good players (Noah, Boozer, Hamilton, et al.) and they have stepped up in the absence of D-Rose this season without question.  They play harder than other teams and play for each other.  This however was during the regular season and the playoffs are an entirely different animal.  The "Second Season" is where good players and good teams become great.  And I just don't see it happening as much as I would love it to be true.  It basically happened last year during the playoffs and they had Derrick the whole time.  Miami has two great players and one really good player in James, Wade, and Bosh.     

I would be shocked if the Miami Heat don't coast to the NBA Finals now that the Bulls are less than perfect. 

The Bulls championship run may still have ended against the Heat but under the circumstances it makes it harder to take.  The "what if" questions will be asked throughout the playoffs and into next season as Derrick rehabs his injured knee.     

As a Bulls fan and lover of basketball I hope the answers we get are from the prayers for Derrick Rose.



Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Take a Chance on Me...

This Thursday will be the NFL Draft and the Indianapolis Colts have the #1 overall selection.  They have already come out and stated Stanford QB Andrew Luck will be their choice.  He is considered by draft experts to be the best overall prospect at QB since John Elway.  He has all the physical tools and mental make-up to be a extremely successful player in this league.  Or does he?  The "science" of evaluating players and projecting their future success has been to this point a 50/50 proposition at best. 

This has been especially evident in the first round of the draft over the past number of years.  General managers go over each player with a fine toothed comb and leave no stone unturned to gain as much information in order to insure draft success.  When you are investing millions of dollars in a player you have to do your due diligence. 

The problem even when interviewing, evaluating, and watching players during their years in college is you still have busts.  It is going to happen the same as the sun will rise tomorrow.  I am sure Andrew Luck will be a fabulous quarterback and the experts are going to be right on so many levels.  I do want to reminisce a bit and think back at NFL Drafts of the last few years and see if they were dead on in their evaluations. 

In 2005 the top two quarterbacks were Alex Smith from Utah and Aaron Rogers from California.  The following are evals from describing each of them. 

"Alex Smith:  There isn't a lot that separates Aaron Rodgers from Alex Smith. Rodgers has the better arm, but Smith has the bigger frame. What it ultimately came down to was that new 49ers coach Mike Nolan fell in love with Smith's intelligence, charisma and overall intangibles -- and who can blame him?"

"Aaron Rodgers:  Rodgers was talked about as a potential No. 1 overall selection, but some bad luck and some concerns about his throwing motion and ability to adjust to NFL offenses sent him sliding. Nevertheless, there are worse places to land than as Brett Favre's understudy."

Alex Smith was taken with the #1 overall selection and Aaron Rodgers was selected 24th overall.  That means 23 other teams had the potential to take a chance on Rodgers and decided to pass.  This could be that they had a QB already or they felt the same regarding his throwing motion.  Who knows?  This just shows you really don't know what a player will be in 1 year, 2 years, or 5 years.  That word potential is a bad word at times. 

Some GM's would say potential gets people fired.  

In 2007 this was never more evident than in the draft pick of JaMarcus Russell out of LSU.  He was to be the next big prospect with a "powerful" arm and athleticism.  He shot up draft boards all the way to #1.  He had potential out the yin yang.  His eval from went as follows:

"Russell is the obvious pick for the Raiders because he fills a pressing need and has the most value at the position. Although he needs to continue to improve his decision making and work on his footwork, he has rare size and arm strength. If Lane Kiffin can get Russell to buy into his system, the sky is the limit for Russell and the Raiders."

In analyzing this it stated, "he needs to improve his decision making...footwork."  These are two of the most important aspects to being a quarterback as they have the ball in their hands on every play.  I have said before this is a quarterbacks league.  This is why a franchise like Oakland will look past this glaring weakness and only focus on the potential in his, "rare size and arm strength."  If I had a dime for every quarterback who has arm strength I would be a rich man.  Football scouts love the quintessential quarterback who is 6'5'' and looks like an Abercrombe model.  It takes more than just physical talent to make it and this is what makes the draft so hard to figure out.

Intangibles.  This is what separates the elite quarterbacks from those who flame out and are now either playing for the arena league, CFL, or bagging groceries.  In 1998 Peyton Manning had it, Ryan Leaf didn't.  In 1999 Tim Couch didn't have it as the #1 overall selection but in 2000 Tom Brady did at pick #199.  It is an unmeasurable entity that is hard to define but when you see it on the field it hits you like a ton of bricks.  The game comes naturally to them and the action seems to be in slow motion.  They have an air of confidence that no matter what comes at them they will have the answer.  It is within them.  They are able to be leaders of men into battle without anyone questioning your ability or their heart. 

This more than any physical ability is what draft gurus are truly seeking.  It just isn't easy.

So this Thursday we know for certain with the first pick Luck will be on the Colts side.

We just don't know HOW lucky and neither does anyone else. 


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mr. Moyer's Wild Ride

This past week Major League Baseball experienced a new record for the oldest pitcher to win a baseball game when Colorado Rockies pitcher Jamie Moyer achieved this feat. It got me thinking and reminded me of the classic exchange, from the film Major League, between rookie phenom Ricky Vaughn and the willy old veteran Eddie Harris.

It goes like this:

Harris: Crisco, Bardol, Vagisil. Any one of them will give you another two to three inches drop on your curve ball. Of course if the umps are watching me real close I'll rub a little jalapeno up my nose and get it running, and if I need to load up the ball I just...Wipe my nose.

Vaughn: You put snot on the ball?

Harris: I haven't got an arm like you, kid. I have to put anything on it I can find. Someday you will too.

I am not suggesting that Moyer is loading the ball and deceiving hitters like this film conveys. I just like the comparison about the status of his throwing arm and what it takes to make it that long in the big leagues. The movie character had to "put anything on it I could find" as his skills diminished. His arm just wasn't what it used to be. We all obviously age; however, some more gracefully than others.

When Jamie Moyer made his MLB debut on June 16, 1986 he was only 23 years old. The opposing pitcher that day was Steve Carlton who was, at the time, 42 years old and in the twilight of his career. It is strange when lives cross paths having no idea what impact it will have or significance. One career seemingly ending while another is just beginning. Moyer won his first game that day and it started off a career path that has now spanned four decades (80's, 90's, 00's, 10's).

How has he done it?

It all comes down to knowing how to pitch. Many pitchers can throw a ball to home plate. Many can bring it reaching upwards and beyond 100mph. It takes a special player to pitch. It is just like real estate.

Location. Location. Location.

Jamie's ability to locate his pitches on the inner and outer half of the plate allows him to keep hitters off balance. He has three pitches: Slow, Slower, and Slowest. This plays to his advantage by feeding off the hitters inability to be patient. It is similar to knuckle ball pitchers who throw a steady diet of 45mph knucklers then throw a "fastball" at 70mph. The change in speeds feels like 90+ to the hitter. These young brash hitters think it is like slow-pitch softball but just can't keep their anxiousness down. It is like waiting for the Heinz ketchup to come out of the bottle. You just can't wait and you find yourself out of control.

He has been doing this for 24 seasons and his best years came when he was in Seattle. He spent 11 years there and was an All-Star once in 2003 when he had his best overall year (21-7, 3.27). He has amassed 268 victories with the latest coming at the ripe old age of 49 by beating the San Diego Padres. He is almost 50 years old and still went 7 strong innings. Opposing players see when he comes out to the mound and it looks like a players Dad is coming out to throw the ceremonial first pitch. Yet he doesn't let it bother him. He may look old but it is all in how you feel. And he feels good.

He is 32 victories away from the exclusive 300 win club which is a bench mark for the Hall-of-Fame. Depending on how this season goes and if his health keeps up he could challenge to achieve this total. I am not sure if he is worthy of HOF status like other 300 game winners, but his longevity has proven to be worthy. If he continues to sip from baseball's fountain of youth it will be hard to avoid it.

His career will ultimately end someday and maybe just maybe he will have a conversation with a rookie phenom similar to Eddie Harris.

One can only wonder if by that time Jamie too will have used a little jalapeno.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Two Hand Touch?

With the NFL Draft looming in a week I have been listening to the goings on in and around pro football. This past week there have been discussions of a future in football without kickoffs for player safety.

No Kickoffs!

Are you kidding me!?!

It was bad enough they moved the kickoff closer last year where kickers were booming them right out of the end zone. They propose just setting the ball at the 20 and lets play ball. Bears fans everywhere were P.O.'d before as the league negated one of the most devastating weapons in league history in Devin Hester. Now imagine sending one of the most exciting plays in football to the trash. I know this isn't being implemented but having it brought up is alarming.

The game I love is really taking football out of football. This has been happening for sometime now. The league has taken the stance of "player safety" and just gone way too far. I have seen more yellow hankies thrown the past few years than ever. God forbid you get to close to a quarterback and invade his personal space. This even goes for when I am watching the teams I root for and can't believe a flag was thrown. They must be more fragile than a China Doll.

We all know this is a quarterbacks league and I understand wanting to protect players. You don't want to let defenses just sandblast QB's and put them in the infirmary but you have to let them play instinctual. When a player is a step away from the quarterback and his momentum hits the quarterback let it go. Unless he goes for the head blatantly it should never be a penalty.

Fans don't want to turn what has been a great product like the National Football League and turn it into the No Fun League. We all watch this game because it is violent. It is what brings us back each and every Sunday. Players are going to get hurt regardless of what the league tries to implement. Heck kicker Bill Gramatica got hurt celebrating a made field goal by jumping up and down and blew out his knee. You can't get anymore non contact than that.

It just goes to show players get hurt. We all want players to be safe and the technology is outstanding in this regard. The helmets are better, shoulder pads are better, and the leg pads are better. This coupled with the fantastic scientific breakthroughs in rehab is phenomenal. Players get hurt, rehab, and come back for more!

The idea is to TACKLE players.


Lets keep it that way!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Master(s) of the Universe?

I had the pleasure of watching the Masters final round on Easter Sunday with my family and found myself mesmerized by the beauty and majesty of Augusta. You could see the blades of grass and sun shimmer off the water. It made me feel as if I was there. They had me hooked just from the golf course itself coupled with it being a major golf tournament.

I am not your typical golf viewer. I am admittedly a very average golf fan when it comes to tuning in to a tournament on television. If there is a major; however, then I am going to watch. I am going to hit refresh on my computer to update the leaderboard. This is what the powers that be want from their fans. They want them tuning in every week to watch their product. This has always been the case in the past and will be in the future.

This was the situation when Arnold Palmer had Arnie's Army and Jack Nicklaus' fans were cheering on the "Golden Bear". Who doesn't tune into a golf tournament when Tiger Woods is at or atop the leaderboard? We want to have interesting people to root for and at times the sport has even tried to create rivalries to make it intriguing. I don't know how many golfers I have heard about when it comes to Tiger versus Mickelson, Garcia, etc. America loves a good rivalry and they love unusual people.

I can remember watching the PGA Championship in 1991 when the sport introduced the most unlikely hero and professional athlete ever when John Daly hit the scene. He looked like he should be hanging outside the local bar or driving a semi truck. How appropriate that he landed on the national stage winning a major tournament at a golf course named Crooked Stick. Daly didn't exactly follow the straight and narrow. He was a mega long hitter and didn't take things seriously. He marched to the beat of his own drum. He was quick to light up a cigar or take a swig of his tasty beverage of choice. America ate it up. He had arrived and the sport had someone the casual fan could tune into every week and say, "What did John Daly do?"

This is where the sport is about to go after watching Bubba Watson win the Masters on Sunday. He is similar to John Daly in the respect that he isn't what golf has always been. He last had a golf lesson when he was 10 years old. He was taught to swing by his late father and has just continued to play golf. It is that simple. In a game that is frustrating for everyone he seems to just tune it out and play. For crying out loud the man's name is BUBBA! You can't get anymore regular than that! In the age of specialization and needing a coach for just about all aspects of the game he defies logic. He doesn't need that. He just plays.

Daly used to say, "Grip it and Rip it!".

Bubba says, "If I've got a swing, I got a shot!"

I love that! He doesn't give in to conventional wisdom. He just plays the game.

Watching him play and listening to his already large fan base makes me want to continue to follow him the same way I followed Daly. He makes things interesting in sport where it can be very boring and old fashioned. He is a hipper version of the sport. He is not only a wonderful player but also a great person. This is where he separates himself from Daly. He played this weekend with a pink driver to bring awareness to cancer. He wore white clothes this weekend to bring awareness to special needs kids. He brought awareness to his cause and did so with class. This ability to capture America while climbing through the leaderboard and defying the odds to win in a two hole playoff. He was asked after winning and sitting with last years winner if this is what he dreamed of and he mentioned it never got that far. I think he dreamt of winning major tournaments but never dreamt what it would be like after winning.

Seeing the larger size of his fans in the galleries.

Hearing the louder cheers of his fans the crowd.

Putting on a Green Jacket will do that.

Now we just sit back and tune in!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

NCAA Championship Monday

I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord.
I've been waiting for this moment, all my life, Oh Lord.
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord, Oh Lord.
by Phil Collins.

I feel Mr. Collins wrote it best in this set of lyrics from one of his best songs. You can feel it in the air. The chance to win a national championship. To stake your claim as college basketballs best. These players dream about CBS's "One Shining Moment". It is coming Monday night.

Two of college basketballs true blue bloods to square off for the games ultimate prize. They have very different paths to New Orleans as one has handled all comers very easily and the other has had to battle through rough final possessions to prevail. Regardless of the way each game has been played the name of the game is to survive and advance and both these teams have done that. This should be a great match up and hopefully equal some of the historic championship games that have taken place in New Orleans before. There is something about New Orleans that makes late game situations just a bit more interesting. Is there something in the air?

In the 1982 championship game a very talented freshman for North Carolina named Michael Jordan hit the go ahead basket with 17 seconds left and a crazy errant Hoya pass to the wrong team at the end doomed Georgetown.

In 1987 it was Keith Smart hitting a fading jumper in the corner literally stunning Syracuse still to win another title for Bob Knight's Hoosiers.

In 1993 the "timeout" Michigan didn't have called by Chris Webber resulted in chaos for The Fab Five and sent North Carolina home with another national championship.

Finally in 2003 with just 3 seconds left Hakim Warrick's block of a potential game tying Kansas three pointer sealed Jim Boeheim's first national championship for Syracuse.

These New Orleans Final Four moments are lasting memories and just examples of that Voodoo That They Do down in Louisiana. I can only hope this season's championship game gives some resemblance of this history. It almost feels like Kansas has been using a little black magic to keep surviving these late game situations against Purdue, N.C. State, and Ohio State. Kentucky really is the superior team on almost every level. They are loaded with McDonald's All-Americans but it only takes one night, 40 minutes, and a little something special in the air to pull out the impossible. I think this Kansas team is tough minded and doesn't get rattled when the chips are down. As I see it I feel these Jayhawks have one more magic bean left in the bag.

Can you feel it coming?

Kentucky and Kansas can.

I guarantee it!