Friday, July 27, 2007

The sentence every animal rights activist is hoping for...

A forwarded image courtesy of my wife...

Why Bob Costas is Da Man...

From a report on today's AP wire -

A day after Barry Bonds called him a "little midget man who knows (nothing)
about baseball," broadcaster Bob Costas said he wasn't upset with the San
Francisco Giants slugger and responded with a jab of his own.

"As anyone can plainly see, I'm 5-6 1/2 and a strapping 150, and unlike
some people, I came by all of it naturally," Costas said Thursday in a telephone
I know that there are many out there who do not like Costas, but I have to admit to being one of his fans. As long as I can remember watching him, the man has been a good interviewer, demonstrated a quick wit, doesn't mince words or suck up, and seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the sports he covers.

Arguably, I would put him amongst the top five best prepared sportscasters/commentators I have ever watched. Amongst them I would include Peter Gammons, Mike Lupica, Will McDonough, and Frank DeFord. If I really thought about it, there are others that would make the list (rounding it out to a top ten), but those are the ones that pop into my head first - all of which often rubbed their reading or viewing public the wrong way at times, but they always knew/know their facts and their history.

Possibly the best thing about Costas is that he gets the joke.

He understands that as a personality - which is what he is at this point - that you can't take yourself too seriously. With appearances on Saturday Night Live, and the television shows New Radio, Arli$$, The Larry Sanders Show, and The Critic, not to mention parts in movies such as Baseketball, Pootie Tang, and Pixar's Cars, he has time and again reminded us that he is not the guy who is going to take anything too seriously. He gets that he's not solving the world's woes. He's just a sportscaster...and he gets the joke.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

NFL Questions: NFC South

Welcome to the carnival that since 2003 has given us a different division champion each year(Panthers, Falcons, Buccaneers, Saints - in that order), the soon-to-see must-see-TV on CourtTV involving Michael Vick (I know I promised, but when talking about this division his name is going to come up), the never at home Saints, the Panthers TopCats making out in a bathroom stall...Let's face it, other than the story of the resurgent Saints last season and what it meant to New Orleans, it hasn't been a good couple of years for the NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons - Can Bobby Petrino make the jump from NCAA to NFL? By all accounts, Petrino is a knowledgeable and innovative football man. He was brought in by management in the hopes that he might finally be able to make Vick what the Falcons had always hoped he would become - a credible NFL quarterback and team leader. With the federal indictment Vick's first concern and the ever growing likelihood that he will never put on a Falcons jersey again...unless he's feeling sentimental, now Petrino needs only worry about succeeding where many other college coaches (Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban - I'm looking at you) have failed in recent years.

Yes, he has experience in the pros that predates his college experience, however, so did Saban. Ultimately, Atlanta's season will come down to how well he adjusts to the pro-game - and that includes how much he can convince the players to buy into what he is selling.

Carolina Panthers - After the last couple of seasons, I think the obvious question they have enough depth? The Panthers have suffered through inconsistent play since their loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Invariably, the offense has suffered for the lack of one person - whenever receiver Steve Smith went down, they struggled. Whenever the starting running back went down, they struggled. When they lost Jake Delhomme, they struggled. When Julius Peppers got banged up, they struggled. More often than not, these injuries did not coincide with each other.

If they stay healthy, they could be the team to beat. If even one key piece goes down, they could be 8-8 - unless the back-ups play better than they did the last couple of years. On the plus side - David Carr will push Delhomme for the starting spot, and is a clear upgrade from Chris Weinke.

New Orleans Saints - Can they avoid the sophomore slump? Last season the Saints were the feel-good story of the NFL complete with late round rookies starting. Now the Saints have to hope that, with the film that now exists, players like Marques Colston, Terrence Copper, Reggie Bush, are able to deal with the added pressure that defenses are likely to put on them in their sophomore year. As those three go, so go the Saints.

Tampa Bay Bucanneers - Is this team really built to win? It's a broad question, but one I think needs to be asked of a team that has suffered from age and injury in recent years. Beyond 35-year old Joey Galloway, the team's best options at receiver are former first-round flop and steroid test failer David Boston, Ike Hilliard who has had progressively fewer receptions in each of the last three seasons (33 last season), and Michael Clayton who has 80 receptions in his rookie year, but hasn't even amassed 35 in a season since. At quarterback they have a choice between the inconsistent Chris Simms, or a decent Jeff Garcia who will need a solid running attack to win - he's not going to win getting into a serious shooting match at this stage of his career.

Between Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, Kevin Carter, Brian Kelly, Greg Spires and Simeon Rice they have 69 years of NFL service. Not necessarily what you want when you run a smaller defense predicated on speed rather than power. Could they still win with these guys - it's possible, but the older a player gets, the less the tank seems full at the end of the season.

NFL Questions: AFC South appears that I have touched a few nerves with supporters of a few teams...and evidently there is at least one Detroit fan out there who is indeed a Matt Millen fan. Who knew?

A quick note before I start on the AFC South...

I have found that these NFL questions pieces are attracting feedback from readers who I am completely unfamiliar with. Well, welcome to the site. I welcome all feedback, and criticism - however, if I feel as though I am being personally attacked, I will respond in kind...btw, to the Baltimore fan who was defending McNair - I understand your point about the running game, but I still think the bigger issue is McNair - and no, it wasn't just the national press that was wondering about McNair's effectiveness last season: I live in an area where I see the Baltimore papers, and they weren't often kind to the signal caller.

Also understand, sometimes my questions about a team are the same being asked by the national media because a player or organization did more last season or during the off-season to enforce the question rather than the answer. These aren't predictions - these are places where, in the off-season, I perceive a team to have an issue. It doesn't mean that the issue will remain during the season. It's a fact that Rex Grossman was alternately the best or worst quarterback in the league on any given Sunday last season. It is a fact that the Bears coaches have been spending an inordinate amount of time trying to fix what they think may be a mechanical problem with his delivery in order to get rid of Bad Grossman. It is a fact that the Bears will struggle if Bad Grossman shows up. If he can even be mediocre Grossman through the entire season, it will likely be an improvement over a quarterback that had less than a 25.0 QB rating in 25 % of his games, and lower than a 2.0 in two of those.

If you come for debate, which I always welcome, come well armed.

And now for the AFC South, odd place that it is.

Houston Texans - Have the Texans done enough during the off-season to bolster their offensive line? A lot of pundits will ask about the acquisition of Matt Schaub and his roughly 50 percent completion percentage, and of course will make the comparisons to back-ups turn-bust-starters Rob Johnson and AJ Feeley. While this is a legitimate question and concern, the Texans problems since their inception has been the lack of a line that can protect. Sure they've produced a couple of 1000-yard running backs, but run blocking and pass blocking aren't the same thing.

If they haven't fixed the blocking, then it won't matter if they have Peyton Manning in their backfield. The results will be no different with Schaub than they were with David Carr.

Indianapolis Colts - Many will question the quality of a defense that was horrible during the regular season in light of the defections of close to half the starters, but the Colts have already proven they can overcome horrible defense. Can they overcome the loss of left tackle Tarik Glenn? Glenn's sudden retirement will put the Colts' newly drafted tackle Tony Ugoh- who was supposed to be Glenn's replacement down the road - to the test. If he struggles with the top pass rushing end from the opposing teams, look for some major changes to happen to the Colts offense, such as the tight ends being kept in for extra protection.

There has been talk of others playing the spot, such as switching Ryan Diem from right to left. The bottom line remains, if whoever plays on that side struggles, then the Colts become more limited in creating the mismatches they love in the passing game.

Jacksonville Jaguars - Beaten by teams like the Texans (twice), Bills, and Redskins, but with wins against the Cowboys, Colts, and Eagles, the big question to me is at signal caller. Maurice Jones-Drew proved more than adequate at running back, but the team again found itself relying on David Garrard due to an injury sustained by Byron Leftwich. The question that Jags fans have to be asking themselves is whether these signal-callers are the ones that can lead them to the promised land. Carbon copies of each other, Leftwich's development has been hindered by his inability to stay healthy, and Garrard's by his inability to beat Leftwich out for the starting job.

If either manages to start all 16 games, the team has a chance at the playoffs, otherwise it's likely to be another third place finish.

Tennessee Titans - There are a lot of questions for Tennessee and few answers. Teams have seen Vince Young and will prepare differently for him, and that could be cause for the old sophomore slump question, but I think any slump suffered here might have more to do with whether or not the Titans can produce a running game. To me that says that Young's success and progress are directly tied with either Chris Brown's health, or whether or not LenDale White has managed to pull his own head out of his ass and comes into camp in shape this year.

If the Titans aren't able to produce a running game from its running backs, Young will literally be left holding the ball. If that's the case, then Tennessee is going to see its top pick from last year take a beating which is never good for the development of a young quarterback.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

NFL Questions: NFC North

Not too long ago the "Black and Blue" division boasted a still effective Bret Favre, a prolific offense in Minnesota, a solid Bears squad with a linebacking corps led by Brian Urlacher and Rosevelt Colvin, and...sorry to say it, a Detroit team that even then was the league punchline. Now the division boasts the NFC Champion Bears and little else.

Chicago Bears - Can Rex Grossman correct his flaws? Grossman was alternately the best quarterback or the worst quarterback in the league on any given Sunday last season, seldom ending up in between. More often than not, after a hot start, Grossman played ugly, and the Bears often won in spite of him - usually because of strong play from the defense, special teams, and the running backs. With a somewhat revamped backfield, the pressure is on Grossman to get better and be more consistent. If he shows little to no improvement, the Bears will have trouble getting back to the Super Bowl, and could have trouble making the post season.

Detroit Lions - Who has learned the bigger lesson during the GM tenure of Matt Millen - Millen or the Ford family? Did Millen finally learn how to evaluate and choose personnel, and has the Ford family figured out that this should Millen's last chance as the GM - a chance that would have been long gone had he managed any other NFL team like this? If the Lions flop again this year, look for the infighting in the Ford family to go to a new level as the son (never a fan of Millen's) makes a new and harder push for the GM's ouster.

Green Bay Packers - Can the Green Bay win with what they have right now? Other than at quarterback, this is a young team. A really young team. Last year they started three rookies on offense alone. At times they shined, at other times they got their hats handed to them, so the question becomes - did they get enough experience, or ar there going to be close to half-a-dozen players suffering through a sophomore slump? If they're not ready for prime-time, this is going to be a team going through severe growing pains.

Minnesota Vikings - Do the Vikings have a legitimate starting quarterback? No one really knows yet whether or not Tavaris Jackson is the answer - if he's not, then who is? Brooks Bollinger? Drew Henson? Tyler Thigpen? Yes, they did the right thing when they gave up on Duante Culpepper, who may be done, but they don't seem to even have a good stop-gap while trying to develop Jackson - if he's even the solution. If he's not, then we're looking at one of three teams that could easily slide to the bottom of the division.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thoughts that hit on a lazy Sunday in Maryland...

Those that know me well know that I would rather be talking about what players are doing on the field, or when off the field, what they are doing to help - Saints defender Charles Grant buying the Saints administrative assistants lunch, Drew Bledsoe and his foundation, the work many Boston area pro-athletes do with the Jimmy Fund. There's a lot that many big-leaguers have to offer to the community, and many do.

Then there's what's happening now.

With Vick.

After today I am going to make an effort to stay away from this story as much as possible considering what the media saturation is going to be like. However, I wanted to touch on a few quick things that have not yet come up.

If indeed Vick is found guilty he could miss up to seven seasons, assuming he doesn't play this year. Or he could receive a suspended sentence, probation, or a number of other options. Assuming he remains free after a guilty verdict, whether on probation, or for some other reason, this opens up a whole new can of worms for the NFL and the Falcons.

The studies will start coming out of the wood-work. The studies that PETA, the SPCA, and every mental-health professional in the united states has on file that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to abuse people at some point in their life. Or people will begin creating psychological profiles of Vick based on passages like the following:

In 88 percent of 57 New Jersey families being treated for child abuse, animals in the home had been abused. An unpublished study by Frank Ascione of Utah State University found a strong pattern suggesting that child abuse victims are more likely to harm animals.

Ascione found that 25.5 percent of physically abused children were cruel to animals, 13.2 percent of sexually abused children were cruel to animals, and 34 percent of both physically and sexually abused children were cruel to animals, while only
4.7 percent of non-abused children were cruel to animals.

To put it bluntly, Vick can kiss endorsements goodbye if he is found culpable in any way, shape, or form - and with black community leaders like Al Sharpton and hip-hop mogul Bill Simmons publicly siding with PETA and calling for corporate America to cancel those deals, it's likely to happen anyway.

Just 'cause he was a running back doesn't mean he has to stick his foot in his mouth...

But Emmitt Smith went and did it anyway. I won't reprint Smith's statements, but he said, in essence, that Vick was probably going to end up taking the fall for everybody else because he was the biggest fish in the pond.

I don't know how they sounded when he said them, but the way they read comes off as a"Vick's being railroaded by the government" sort of sentiment. Of course it couldn't be because they believe that Vick could be bankrolling the dogfighting ring, could it? No...the money behind it couldn't be coming from the athlete with the $130 million contract.

Anyone else wondering if Emmit Smith's ESPN career will be over before it began? Come to think of it - with the way they're going, Smith is's not like he has sexually harassed any of the people behind the scenes.

Will the real slim shortstop please stand up?

Over the last six weeks the Red Sox have gone through their toughest stretch of the season. I'm not talking about scheduling - I'm talking about hitting.

They have been brutal, leaving an inordinate number of men on base. The clutch hitting has been non-existent. Baseball's best three-four combo in the game has been mediocre, and Kevin Youkilis - a big reason why the offense got along with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz hitting like...well, Dave Magadan - has five hits in his last 31 at-bats over the last ten games. His average has dipped from .324 to .310 during that time.

However, following three losses, the Sox had three wins. Mostly due to timely hitting from the team's lightweights - Coco Crisp, and Julio Lugo.

Lugo has been something of a freak, and it's time for the real Julio to stand-up.

In spite of hitting below the Mendoza line for a greater portion of the season than any regular has the right to, somehow Lugo is tied for fourth on the team in RBI's with 47, and leads the team in stolen bases, in spite of the fact that his .291 on base percentage ranks him ahead of only Wily Mo Pena and Doug Mirabelli among position players on the team.

The freakish thing really is the last ten games, after he broke out of a slump that felt much too long. Over the last week and a half's worth of games, Lugo is 16 of 39 (.410), 7 RBI, and a grand slam.

To put that in perspective - Ortiz over the same time frame - 14 of 40 (.350), 9 RBI, and two homers.

Will the real Sox shortstop please stand up? I'd like to know what to expect for the second half.