Friday, February 01, 2008

Time to play the game

We have less than 48 hours of hype left. The remaining (roughly) two days will see the analysis slowly turn to party and celebration. The concerts begin tomorrow, and will continue almost until kick-off. The analysis will, as well - but it will be interrupted by the music and celebration. The holiday is beginning earlier and earlier.

While it will continue, by now we have heard every expert, coach, talking head, former player, and shaman from Maine to Mexico dissect Sunday's game more than a frog in a tenth grade biology class, it's time to play the game. We have heard the special interest stories - Eli and his brother, the war hero in the Giants locker room, Mercury Morris and the 1972 Dolphins, the rehash of Tedy Bruschi's stroke, Bruschi Brothers constructions, Junior's return to the big game after 181 games, Mercury Morris and the 1972 Dolphins, tight end Kevin Boss' trip from Division II to Super Bowl, Tom Brady's childhood mentor's taking ill, and, of course, Mercury Morris and the 1972 Dolphins.

We have heard every little injury from Tom Brady's ankle, Plaxico Burress' and Rich Seubert's knees, and Jabar Gaffney's shoulder, to Scott Pioli's administrative assistant's paper cut.

We have been inundated with all kinds of speculation and useless information.

I'm a little surprised that I don't know what's Bruschi's favorite restaurant, or Bill Belichick's hat size, or who Tom Coughlin's favorite singer is.

We have experienced the return of Spygate courtesy of Arlen Specter - who appears, when Goodell's written correspondence to his inquiry is read, to be a bitter Eagle's fan rattling his saber because he has a little power.

We have heard Buress' predictions, the Giants' trash talk, the Patriots' muted responses.

The bottom line - none of the above matters in two days. The trash talk, the injuries, Specter, the stroke, the 181 game gap, definitely not Mercury Morris and the '72 Dolphins, and not Spygate.

All that matters is what happens on a field in Arizona between two teams when approximately 100 men strap on the helmets and pads and smack the sweet bejeezus out of each other for 60-minutes on Sunday night.

At the end of that one team will be left standing.

All I have to say about the immortal words of Al Bundy, "let's rock."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Golden Age of Boston Sports

For any fan of Boston area sports under the age of 45, the 'Oughts is the Golden Age.

I have touched on the numbers that we're now seeing from Boston teams before. The Patriots are the impetus for this sports Renaissance in the Hub of the Universe, and reversal of fortune for Eastern New England's professional sports franchises.

It is, for me - an admitted football fan first, and baseball fan second - vindication for a team that, while I was growing up, was sometimes called a distant fourth in popularity in a three sport market.

Before I get into where I'm going with this, I want to note that all this tends to be cyclical. The Red Sox were the most dominant team in baseball 100 years ago, winning five championships from the beginning of 1900 through to 1918. In the 1960's, the Celtics were the most dominant professional sports franchise ever, winning ten of eleven championships starting in the late 1950's and running through 1970.

For New Englanders/Bostonians of a certain generation that 1960's to late 1970's stretch was, at one time the Golden Age. The Celtics dominated until the two Stanley Cups by the Bruins, then there were the 1967 Red Sox. By the time the Sox returned to the World Series in 1975, the other franchises around Boston were falling on hard times. Larry Bird wasn't yet drafted, and the Bruins struggled to advance in the playoffs.

The last time there was an up-tick in the cycle for Boston was in the mid to late 1980's when the Celtics won championships, and the Red Sox, Bruins, and Patriots all made it to the finals in their respective sports. The Sox lost the World Series to the Mets, the Patriots the Super Bowl to the Bears, and the Bruins the Stanley Cup to Edmonton. That was, for my generation, the Golden Age.

Until now.

In 2001, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli assembled a team of virtual no-names and won the Super Bowl on the arm of a sixth round, second string quarterback, the legs of a retread running back released from a division rival, the leg of an unknown kicker out of NFL Europe, as well as a punishing defense with the only big names on the team - Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy. The others were mostly mid- to low-end free agents, often career back-ups or part-timers or end of the road guys, who weren't tendered offers by their previous teams like Mike Vrabel, Brian Cox, and Otis Smith.

Theo Epstein, just three years later, built a Red Sox team based on the same principles that Pioli and Belichick used - don't worry about the superstars. Get the gritty guys that love the game. Epstein even went as far as trading away fan favorite, and team superstar Nomar Garciaparra at the trading deadline for Orlando Cabrera - a solid, get your uniform dirty sort of guy who, at the time, was not thought of as highly as Garciaparra. The Sox have won two World Series since.

The Patriots have parlayed their success in the big game into the ability to recruit the big names, the superstars like Corey Dillon and Randy Moss, and get them to check their egos at the door.

Now we're watching a Celtics team with a big three that the pundits wondered how they would mesh when the players were put together. The three - Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett - were known as shooters, and the big question was how they would operate - one ball, three shooters, someone was bound to be unhappy. Like with the recent Patriots and Red Sox teams, Allen, Pierce and Garnett all saw an opportunity to be great...if they left the ego at the door.

On the ice, the Bruins are fifth in the Eastern Conference and playing solid hockey. They will make the playoffs, barring a catastrophic collapse.


It's good to be a Boston fan right now. Savor it. These things don't last.

Dodging a bullet

Johan Santana is heading to the Mets.

This says to me that the Red Sox and Yankees were both out of the bidding at the end.

The Mets gave up four prospects to get Santana, none of which are considered by scouts to be major league ready right now.

Both the Yanks and Sox were offering at least one quality, major league ready prospect along with a package of minor leaguers, all believed to be no more than a year away from the majors. And we've seen, in the Mets, what their top prospects have done in recent years (Lastings Milledge).

If the prospects the Mets sent to the Twins don't pan out, this is going to go down in Minnesota sports history with the following - the Vikings trade to get Herschel Walker, which, in essence, was the impetus for the three-Super Bowl Cowboys; the Twins getting nothing for David Ortiz; the Kevin Garnett trade to the Celtics. Those are just the ones I can think of.

The reason it will be comparable? Because they could have had any one of the following sure-fire major leaguers - Phil Hughes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Coco Crisp, or John Lester. Crisp doesn't have the upside the others have, but it would have given them a center-fielder and lead-off hitter...and they would definitely have had something to show for it.

The Twins played chicken and lost.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More random thoughts...

My father's name is Lawrence Smith. He was born in 1939.

Imagine my surprise when I heard on Sports Center this morning that Larry Smith had died at the age of 68. I had that brief moment of shock until I remembered that my father shared his name with the former football coach of USC and Arizona....well that, and why on Earth would my father's death be announced on ESPN? (I will admit to being a bit of an idiot, but in my defense, it was 6:30 in the morning and my infant daughter had me up at midnight and four AM).

Still, it was weird.

Ten straight...

I forgot to address this in my last piece.

A lot has been made of the Giants winning ten straight on the road as one of the reasons that they would win (once again, I would like to reiterate that I think the Giants have a legitimate shot, and I wouldn't be surprised if they won, I just don't think it will happen). The ten road wins in a road are impressive, and 10-1 in their last 11.

Not even taking into account that the Patriots are at 18-0 (which seems to have become the "they have to lose sometime" tool to use against them in predictions), the last time the Patriots lost a road game was in Indianapolis in last year's playoffs. And including last season's playoffs, the Patriots are 11-1 in their last 12 road games.

If we want to consider them the home team, as per the Super Bowl designation, the Patriots are on a home winning streak of 14 straight since their regular season loss to the Jets in week 10 of last year.


Blogging, sports columnists, and all the other talking heads do an enormous amount of speculation. Really, it's what we do. We look at records, statistics, and quotes from news conferences and we speculate on what it all means.

One of the bits I have heard come up, not a popular one, but I have heard it, is that Bill Belichick will walk away if the Patriots win. The argument being, after 19-0, what's left to accomplish?

My head coach in the history of the game has five Super Bowl rings, and only one has five NFL championships - Vince Lombardi. If Belichick can win this year, giving him four SB titles in seven years, he still has an opportunity for as many as three more this decade with '08, '09, '10 seasons (unlikely, but possible).

These are the things that have never been done that he could potentially accomplish - three Super Bowls in a row, six in a decade, and the most dominant football franchise of all time in a single decade. Will he? I don't know. They have a hard road with teams like the Colts, and San Diego as perennial contenders.

Some people never learn...

23-17. That's what Plaxico Burress says that the final score will be, in favor of the Giants. It's one thing for the owner to talk like that. But Burress? Sure he's had some decent games against the Patriots in his career, but consider the following -

In 2001 Burress' Steelers team already had made reservations for New Orleans. The Steelers didn't just lose that game. They were pushed around and bullied in their own stadium.

Two seasons later in Super Bowl XXXVIII the Panthers vaunted defensive line was supposed to manhandle the Patriots offensive line made up of back-ups and street-free agents. The line didn't give up a single sack.

The following year Eagles wide-out Freddie Mitchell famously boasted he had something for Rodney Harrison. Mitchell had one catch in the Eagle's Super Bowl loss for 11 yards. Harrison, on the other hand, caught two of Donovan McNabb's passes.

This season alone, the following have mouthed off before Patriot games with the subsequent results -

LaDainian Tomlinson (...ya ain't cheatin', ya ain't tryin') - 18 rushes for 43 yards in a Chargers loss.

Terrell Owens (Getcha popcorn ready) - Six receptions for 66 yards and one touchdown in the Cowboys loss. Three catches for 31 yards and no scores in the second half.

Washington Redskins defense (they haven't seen a defense like ours yet) - 'Skins lost 52-7. 'Nuff said.

Anthony Smith (People keep asking me if we're ready for the Patriots. They should be asking if they're ready for us) - That was only the beginning of Smith's statement guaranteeing a Steelers win over the Patriots. Brady constantly picked on Smith, burning him on at least two long touchdown passes. Smith was later benched.

Igor Olshansky (New England is more worried about us...they know what's up) - Olshansky was largely quiet during the playoff game against New England, registering five tackles, two assists, and half a sack. The Chargers never led in a game that was seldom as close as it seemed, and the defensive line didn't get the pressure they needed.

And now Plax appears to be lobbying to join that list.

I'm not saying that Burress shouldn't believe that the Giants can't win - there would be no point in playing the game. However, he could have handled a more diplomatic manner...say, maybe answering the question with, "yeah, I think we can win. We have our work cut out for us with that team over there. But yeah, we have a chance."

As for the people who like to say, "if they need that to get up for the game..." Let's face it. They don't need it, that doesn't mean they aren't going to use it.

Just a thought.

By the way...

Currently I am the Maryland Columnist for the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. It's a good gig if you can get it. As such, I have started a little endeavor with some of my cohorts here. If you're a fan of micro-brews, or inexpensive wine, or like the occasional mixed drink...hell, if you're an alcoholic, then stop by.