March 3, 2010

Fair or Foul

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Fair or Foul”: a weekly(ish) list of the most recent newsworthy events in sports, and my independent, unbiased opinion (isn’t it always?) about whether these events are fair or foul.

Note: For those who remember the old Nickelodeon show Kids Court, I totally stole this idea from the “fair or unfair” segment at the end of each show. Remember that?? Some kid would stand up and complain about something like, “My mom won’t let me play Nintendo until I take out the garbage!” Then the host would ask the kids-only audience, “Fair or unfair?” Undoubtedly, regardless of the complaint, the kids would scream “UNFAIR” at the top of their lungs. So if it helps, please feel free to imagine a room full of kids screaming “fair” or “foul” at the end of each paragraph. Enjoy.

1. Sidney Crosby Booed by Home Fans

When Ryan Miller’s Buffalo Sabers visited Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, the visiting goaltender (and USA hockey hero) received a noticeably louder ovation than the hometown phenom (and USA hockey villain), and apparently Crosby even received some boos. But the Pittsburgh fans weren’t booing Crosby the Penguin Tuesday night, they were booing Crosby the Canadian. Crosby the Canadian who scored the gold-medal-winning goal on Sunday afternoon and crushed the United States’ hopes and dreams in the process – that Crosby. Although the people of Pittsburgh are unquestionably some of the most loyal and vocal sports fans in America, they are also a collection of blue collar workers that put their country first. And while I hate to give credit to the people of Pittsburgh (with two Super Bowl titles and a Stanley Cup in the last four years, they don't need my help), they absolutely made the right call. On US soil, Miller gets the bigger cheer.

Ruling: Fair.

2. Missouri Senate Votes to Remove Mark McGwire’s Name From Highway

I have many thoughts on the steroid era in general and Mark McGwire’s steroid use in particular, but I’ll save those for another day. For now, let’s just go with this: Mark McGwire was one of the greatest players of his generation, period. He was crushing home runs long before he started juicing (he set the record for homeruns by a rookie in 1987 without steroids), he would have easily cleared 500 home runs even without the juice, and he should be in the Hall of Fame. And that’s before we mention that MLB didn’t even enforce its ban on PEDs until after Big Mac retired. So if they must, let the good people of Missouri debate McGwire’s place as a roll model, but let the man keep his highway.

Ruling: Foul.

3. LeBron James Changing Jersey Numbers

Apparently LeBron James has petitioned the league for a new number. Instead of continuing to wear number 23 next season, King James would like to wear number 6. Why? Well to honor Michael Jordan of course.

Call me cynical (you wouldn’t be the first), but I don’t buy it. Other than Kobe Bryant -- who also pulled this trick a few years back -- LeBron James sells more basketball jerseys than anyone alive. So unless Cleveland plans to retire number 23 (which seems unlikely given this shot), this is nothing more than a way to force the good people of Cleveland to spend another $100 on a jersey. And of course, Nike can now create a whole new logo for James (the old L23 just won’t work anymore), which they will then slap on everything from t-shirts to toilet paper.

That said, perhaps this is a good sign for Cavs fans. If LeBron planned to bolt to New York after this season, he could keep number 23 and still sell a whole new set of jerseys, right? But if he stays in Cleveland and switches jersey numbers, he gets to have his cake and eat it too. So don’t give up hope just yet Cleveland – Number 6 may be coming back after all.

Ruling: Foul.

December 29, 2009

Views From the Cheap Seats

Some thoughts on a few of last week’s events in the world of sports:

Urban Meyer

Obviously this is where I’m going to start. For those who might have been doing Christmassy things last weekend instead of watching ESPN, on Saturday night Urban Meyer announced that, after the University of Florida’s upcoming Sugar Bowl appearance on Friday, he would no longer be the head football coach at UF. Then, on Sunday, he changed his mind.

On Saturday night (when Meyer was still leaving), my first thought was that he had had an affair. With Tim Tebow. And of course the report that Urban Meyer was resigning because of a heart muscle defect only added fuel to my fire. Seriously, do you have any idea how many times I made the “Tim Tebow leaving Florida literally broke Urban Meyer’s heart” joke on Saturday night?

After I settled down, I started to think about who might replace Meyer. Names I assumed I would hear in the coming week as potential candidates: Bob Stoops, Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan, Steve Spurier, Dan Mullen, and Charlie Strong. The name I was 100% sure I would not hear in the coming week: Charlie Weiss.

All of this speculation proved moot, however, when Urban Meyer gave us his best Brett Favre impersonation Sunday afternoon. It’s not exactly clear what Urban Meyer’s plans are now, but until he makes another announcement, we can undoubtedly look forward to countless hours of analysis from Lou Holtz. Awesome.

Da Bulls

Last week the Chicago Bulls blew a 35-point third-quarter lead to the Sacramento Kings, ultimately losing the game by 4 points. The next day, the PTI boys debated whether Vinny Del Negro should be fired for the loss (and because his team is lousy). And while I have the utmost respect for Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon, the implication that a coach should be blamed for a group of professional basketball players blowing a lead that huge is absurd. I understand that in today’s win-or-go-home sports world everybody blames the coaches for everything, but at some point we have to place some of the blame on the players, right? These are professional athletes. If they can’t play hard enough to hold on to a 35-point lead over the Sacramento Kings, then they have much bigger problems than the coach.

Ohio State West

I have made no secret of my dislike for all things Pete Carroll, but amid all of the controversy surrounding the latest USC football scandal, T.J. Simers raised a good question last week: Where has USC’s athletic director Mike Garrett been in all of this? As much as I like to watch Pete Carroll suffer, I can admit that the man has single-handedly returned USC to national prominence and, as Simers points out, probably saved Mike Garrett’s job in the process. And yet, this year, when things haven’t quite gone as planned for the Trojans, Garrett is nowhere to be found. Interesting.

Bowl Games

Also of note for USC fans last week, the Trojans beat Boston College in the Emerald Bowl. No seriously, they did. What’s that you say? You haven’t heard of the Emerald Bowl? You didn’t realize that they played bowl games before January 1? Ouch.

In related news, UCLA plays in the Eagle Bank Bowl today against Temple. Ouch.

And finally, in honor of the bowl season, the NFL decided to turn some of its Week 16 games into bowl games. Seriously, they gave certain matchups big fancy names and everything. Since I assume most of you didn't see this, here are some of the highlights:

- San Diego Chargers vs. Tennessee Titans: The Sure They Look Good Now, But Wait Till the Chargers Collapse in the Playoffs Like They Do Every Year Bowl

- Buffalo Bills vs. Atlanta Falcons: The Who Would Win in a Fight, O.J. Simpson or Michael Vick? Bowl

- Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots: The Yep, the Patriots Are Still Pretty Good Bowl

- Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints: The Remember That Time We Were 13 and 0? Bowl (Incidentally, Saints fans have no reason to worry. The 1999 Broncos went 13-0, then lost the next two, then won the Super Bowl. I mean, we had John Elway, but still, don’t worry New Orleans, everything will be fine.)

- Detroit Lions vs. San Francisco 49ers: The This Would Have Been a Much Better Game 15 Years Ago Bowl

- New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts (sort of): The We Never Cared About 16 and 0 Anyway Bowl

- Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers: The I Wish Mike Holmgren Was Still Our Head Coach Bowl

- Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns: The At Least We’re Not the Rams or the Lions Bowl

- Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins: The Boy, I Sure Hope Mike Shanahan is My Head Coach Next Year Bowl

Jim Caldwell Was Right: A Lesson From the 2007 New England Patriots

On Sunday afternoon, up 15-10 over the Jets in the third quarter, Jim Caldwell decided that it was time to pull Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts' starters because he didn't want to risk injury before the playoffs. This decision angered Peyton Manning, it angered the Colts' hometown fans, and it angered the sports media.

But while Caldwell's decision may not have been the most exciting, and it may not have been the most popular, it was absolutely the right decision. Why? Because in the NFL, 16 and 0 means absolutely nothing, but Super Bowl championships mean absolutely everything.

As proof, let's take a look back at the 2007 New England Patriots - remember them? Like the 2009 Colts, the '07 Patriots started 14-0, and had clinched everything by week 16. But unlike the '09 Colts, the '07 Pats went for perfection, and they got it.

At 16-0, the '07 Pats were the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to complete a perfect regular season, and the first team ever to complete a 16-0 regular season (the NFL expanded the regular season from 14 to 16 games in 1978).

At the time, the sports media couldn't find enough superlatives to describe the 2007 Patriots. Great, awesome, incredible, flawless, unbeatable - they just couldn't put it into words. This was the greatest team anyone had ever seen, and it was only a matter of time until they cemented their place in NFL history.

However, a strange thing happened on the way to the Lombardi Trophy - they lost. They lost to a weaker, less talented New York Giants team in Super Bowl XLII, and the 2007 Patriots finished the year at 18-1. Ouch.

But the interesting thing about that team wasn't just that they lost, it was how they lost. Anyone who watched the '07 Pats in the playoffs could tell that they lacked the fire and explosiveness that had been there all season. In fact, you might argue that the team looked tired.

That tired play continued throughout Super Bowl XLII, and by the time the Patriots realized that it was time to play football, it was too late.

After the game, strange as it may seem, no one seemed to care that the Patriots had gone 16-0 (or even 18-0). No one. After Super Bowl XLII the Patriots were no longer 16-0, they were 18-1. They had failed.

Now, let's bring this back to the 2009 Indianapolis Colts.

Let's say you're Jim Caldwell. You're 14-0. You've got a real shot at perfection, but because you remember the 2007 Patriots, you know that pursuing perfection might cost you the Super Bowl. What do you do?

Well, if you value your job, you do everything you can to help the Colts win the Super Bowl. You have no other option.

With all due respect to Herm Edwards, you don't just play to win the game, you play to win THE GAME. You play to win the Super Bowl. You were hired to win the Super Bowl, eventually you will be fired if you don't win the Super Bowl, so you better do everything in your power every second of every day to help your team win the Super Bowl. Period.

And because Jim Caldwell is an intelligent NFL head coach, he knows this, and he coached accordingly.

Could he have taken the risk and gone for perfection? Certainly. Would that have made for a more exciting game? Absolutely. But would it have increased the likelihood that the Colts win the Super Bowl? Probably not - and that's all that matters.