Friday, January 29, 2010

No Bull: Vinny's boys are suddenly road warriors

What in the world has gotten into the Bulls? The past week has easily been the team's best stretch all year, and quite possibly represents the best week in the last several years (save the week when they drafted Derrick Rose). They defeated Phoenix (17-4 at home at the time), Houston (13-5), San Antonio (17-8), and Oklahoma City (12-9) in a six-day span, all on the road. And this despite the fact that the Bulls were just 4-15 on the road heading into the game against the Suns. So the Bulls had four road wins on the season, then picked up four more in six days against four Western Conference contenders. Huh?

You can take any team--the Cavs, the Lakers, the Celtics, you name it--there's a good chance none of them would accomplish what the Bulls just did given the opportunity. Earlier this year, Cleveland went to Denver, Portland, Golden State and Utah, and lost the first and last games of that stretch. The Lakers lost three straight road games earlier this month, including a 20-point defeat in San Antonio. When Boston headed West to take on the Clippers, Golden State and Phoenix, they lost all three.

Winning four tough road games in four days just doesn't really happen in the NBA. Winning four games in a row of any kind doesn't typically happen to the Bulls.

If this level of play continues, there's no way Vinny Del Negro can get the axe. If the season ended today, the Bulls would be in the playoffs as the 7 seed. On top of that, they're just 1.5 games back of the 5 seed! Granted, this speaks more to the NBA having too many playoff teams and to the weak nature of the Eastern Conference than it does to the Bulls' success, but that doesn't change the facts.

So what's changed?

1. Derrick Rose has scored 20 or more in five straight games. More importantly, the team is confident giving him the ball when there's 15 seconds on the clock and they're down by one. That is to say, he's becoming the guy for the Bulls, something every team needs.

2. Joakim Noah is not just a big ball of energy any more--he's applying that energy and filling up the stat sheet. The man is second in the league in rebounds and averaging a double-double on the season. Some people said the monster playoff series he had against the Celtics last year would elevate his confidence and lead to a strong 2009-10 season. Some people were right.

And that's it. Let's be honest--not that much has changed. The Bulls are still just a .500 team and currently the 7th best team in the East. They were the 7th best team in the East last year when Rose was a rookie and so was Del Negro. The Bulls were expected to build on last year and be a serious contender this season, not half contender/half pretender. But this recent run of success has been awfully nice to see; let's hope it continues.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Okay everyone, listen up! Who wants to be the Bears' offensive coordinator? (Crickets chirping ...)

The Bears' drawn out search for an offensive coordinator would be comical if it weren't so pathetic (okay, it's still kind of comical). They're now 0-for-5 in the search. That's a golden sombrero plus one. Or a 0.0 quarterback rating. Use whatever analogy you want, it's bad.

Most of the candidates would have been taking a serious promotion had they become the Bears' offensive coordinator. But apparently the idea of working under Lame Duck Lovie and Jerry Angelo, and working with Jay Cutler and the Bears' offense, is not an appealing proposition.

The most recent suitor who did not requite the Bears' love was Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson. Now this one I don't get. Jackson turned down the Bears' offer to take the same position with the Oakland Raiders. The Oakland Raiders? Are you serious? That's like choosing Hell over purgatory. Sure, purgatory sucks an' all, and it's hard to think of many things worse. But I can think of one: Hell!

Working under Al Davis? The man's 108! (Or 80. One of the two.) They haven't even sniffed a .500 record since their Super Bowl season in 2002. Their head coach, Tom Cable, narrowly avoided assault charges for allegedly striking ... another coach! Their quarterback is Jamarcus Freakin' Russell!

Jay Cutler has issues, but Jackson chose Russell over him? Russell's QB rating this season was 50, the worst of any QB in the NFL. Russell's QB rating this season was 50, the worst of any QB in the NFL. Yes, I know I just repeated that--I wanted to make sure you really let that sink in. The man was benched twice this season. But you know who still loves him? 108-year-old owner Al Davis. Who still owns the team. Whom Hue Jackson will now be working for. (Rumor has it that Jackson might become the head coach instead of Cable, which would be the only semi-logical explanation for Jackson's decision.)

What are the Bears saying in these interviews?

"We really feel that Jay maxed out on his potential this year, and we just need someone to come in and help him maintain his level of performance." And then the candidate runs out of the office with those cartoon smoke trails behind him.

"We fired Ron Turner because someone had to fall on the axe, but we really want someone to come in here and do exactly what he was doing." And then the candidate presses a button and is ejected clear out of Halas Hall, never to be seen again.

The Bears will soon have to turn to a Pop Warner assistant coach to fill the vacant position. And don't forget--there's still that whole defensive coordinator thing after that!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Source: Dawson prefers to go into Hall as a Cub

UPDATE: According to ESPN, Dawson sent a text message to the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday saying that the Hall of Fame will announce today that Dawson will enter the Hall as an Expo, not a Cub. Very disappointing.

This according to the Tribune.

It's a tough call from the Hall's perspective. On the one hand, Dawson played his first 11 seasons with the Expos, winning Rookie of the Year in 1977. He also hit 225 of his 438 career home runs and drove in 838 of his 1,591 career RBI with Montreal.

On the other hand, you have a player who was treated poorly by the Expos when he became a free agent after the 1986 season. Allegedly, he wanted so badly to play for the Cubs that he presented Cubs GM Dallas Green with a blank check and said he'd play for whatever Green thought was fair (in the end, he earned $650,000). He played six seasons in Chicago, winning MVP on a last place team in 1987. He said at one point, "Everything was too good to be true. I could talk, mix, and have a relationship (with Cubs fans), something I had been unable to do in Montreal." And now, according to a source, Dawson would prefer to don a Cubs cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.

But it's ultimately up to the Hall. A decision could come soon, and here's hoping Dawson gets his wish.

Hat tip: Bleed Cubbie Blue

Kurt Warner finally able to return to true passion: stocking shelves at Hy-Vee

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

GLENDALE, Arizona--A 45-14 Divisional Round playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints left many Arizona Cardinals fans disappointed, but one man couldn't be happier: quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner, whose exciting and fulfilling life stocking shelves at a Hy-Vee grocery store was rather rudely interrupted by a successful NFL career, plans to retire now that the season is over.

"It's like a dream come true," Warner said. "I never really thought this day would come. I mean, you think about it and you dream about it and you hope it happens, but I never really thought it would. In the back of your mind, you think: 'Can a person really get a second chance to stock shelves at Hy-Vee? I mean, isn't that kind of a once-in-a-lifetime deal?' But today, thanks to a pathetic and really rather shameful performance against the Saints, that day is here."

Hy-Vee CEO Richard N. Jurgens confirmed that the shelf-stocking position has been kept open since 1994 in case of Warner's return. After all, Warner was Hy-Vee's 1993 and 1994 MVP (the only back-to-back winner in Hy-Vee history) and set records in 1993 for most soups stocked in an hour and fastest de-stocking of a recalled item. Both records still stand today.

Many fans were confused by Warner's proclamation after the Divisional Round loss that he is "going to Disney World!" given that this claim is typically made by a player who just won the Super Bowl. Warner later explained that Hy-Vee is opening a new store in Orlando and needs a top shelf-stocker to help get things rolling.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cubs sign Xavier Nady, pending physical

According to a tweet from Yahoo's Tim Brown, the Cubs have signed outfielder Xavier Nady. Terms of the deal are unknown.

The 31-year-old right-handed platoon player has played for four teams, and saw action in just seven games with the Yankees last season due to Tommy John surgery, the second such surgery of his career. Nady typically plays right or left field, but has also seen time in center, at first base, and at third. His best season came in 2008 when he hit .305 with 25 HR and 97 RBI between the Pirates and Yankees. He is a career .280 hitter with a .335 OBP.

It's impossible to judge the quality of a free agent signing without knowing the terms of the deal, but Nady should fit in nicely as the Cubs' fourth outfielder.

UPDATE: Jon Heyman tweets that Nady will make $3.3 million and up to $2 million more based on games played. Not bad.

hat tip: MLB Trade Rumors

Living up to the hype

Now THAT was a good game.

The Saints are headed to the Super Bowl for the first time ever. Brett Favre is done for the year. The matchup most of us have been waiting for since the middle of the season will take place less than two weeks from now in Miami. Suffice to say: I enjoyed Sunday's Conference Championship action.

A couple thoughts from the weekend:
  • Now I know why Brett Favre turns up the drama meter whenever he can--people eat that s**t up. When Favre was on the ground like a dog playing dead and then sought assistance as he limped off the field, was it not entirely obvious to everyone watching that he would soon be back in the game firing laser beams all over the field? What were the odds that Tarvaris Jackson would see even a half-second of playing time in the NFC Championship game? 1-in-10,000? 1-in-10 million? And yet, when Favre returned for the Vikings' next series, the Vikings faithful at Buffalo Wild Wings went crazy. Had they never seen Brett Favre play before? Were they not aware of the fact that he has his SAG card and that he is a master thespian? C'mon, people, it was in the script! Page 28: Favre is hit and remains down. He gets up limping and asks for help as he leaves the field. A few seconds later, the camera spots Favre as he lays on a training table in apparent agony. (Skip to next Vikings series.) Favre returns to the huddle gingerly, unsure if he can go on. Hut hut hike! Favre drops back, plants his feet, fires a bullet over the middle. First down! Favre limps down the field. Repeat previous sequence until game ends.
  • Part of me was very, very happy when the Saints won the overtime coin toss, moved the ball down the field and made the game-winning field goal, all with Favre sitting on the bench. But part of me can't help but acknowledge how utterly stupid it is that Brett Favre, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, never even got to take the field in the extra period of the NFC Championship game thanks to a coin toss. College overtime is so much better.
  • Will the Saints be able to hang with the Colts? While the Colts did fall behind 17-6 to the Jets, they dominated from that point on, winning by 13 in the end. They still haven't lost a game this year when they were trying to win, and they've won their two playoff games 20-3 and 30-17. The Saints, on the other hand, were nearly doubled up in yardage by the Vikings, 475-257. Only the Vikings' five turnovers kept New Orleans in the game. The somewhat disparate performances led to a bigger-than-expected spread--the Colts are favored by anywhere from 3.5 to 5 points depending on the sportsbook, rather than the 2.5 or 3 many expected.
  • Adrian Peterson is a phenomenal running back with ridiculous potential. But he will never crack the list of "Best running backs ever" if he doesn't stop putting the ball on the turf. He fumbled seven times this season and twice more in the NFC Championship game. He will never earn the full confidence of his coach and offensive coordinator if they can't be sure he's going to keep the ball to himself.

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Ill-annoying performance

On Saturday, I saw a State Farm commercial in which LeBron James has the ball with his team (not the Cavs, but a fake, commercial team) down 65-64 with about 10 seconds to go. Weird thing was, the commercial came on with just over 10 seconds left in the Michigan State-Minnesota game with MSU leading 65-64. LeBron hit the game-winner in the commercial, which I assumed was a freaky foreshadowing of what would soon happen in the real game. Unfortunately, Minnesota's Lawrence Westbrook is not LeBron James. I repeat: Lawrence Westbrook is not LeBron James. You heard it here first.

In other Big Ten action, Illinois has now lost two straight conference games after allowing Northwestern to go on a 15-2 second half run and pull out a 73-68 victory. It was the first time the Wildcats had beaten the Illini in 12 tries.

Amazingly, it wasn't the three-ball that hurt Illinois as was the case when Northwestern forced overtime in the teams' first meeting this season. Instead, it was freebies that did them in. Illinois committed 26 fouls and sent Northwestern to the line 32 times. The Wildcats put in just 24 of them, but that still gave them a 14 point advantage from the line (Illinois was 10-15).

7'1 junior Mike Tisdale continued to disappoint. Though he had a solid effort with 14 points and six boards, the big man mopped the floor with the outsized Wildcats at Assembly Hall, going for 31 points and 11 rebounds. He should have been able to do similar damage down low given his height advantage. He was at least able to stay out of foul trouble, though, for once. Tisdale has fouled out of four games this year and has been limited to 20 minutes or less seven times because of fouls.

Not to be out-sucked, junior Mike Davis was completely invisible in Saturday's game. He failed to score and had just two rebounds after lighting up Northwestern with a 20 and 17 game at Assembly Hall. It is, I'm pretty sure--but don't quote me on this--illegal in 27 states for Mike Davis to fail to score against the Northwestern Freakin' Wildcats.

Illinois doesn't have the talent to be at the top of the Big Ten standings, but they do have enough talent to win a majority of the games on their conference schedule and fight for a spot in the March Madness bracket. But too often this season key players have failed to show up to play. With Penn State, Indiana and Iowa coming up, the Illini need to pile up some wins before reaching the brutal portion of their schedule.

Friday, January 22, 2010

DePaul finally out of their deep hole

Marquette, what have you done??

You had a double-digit lead against a team that had lost 24 consecutive Big East games. You let most of that lead slip away, but still led by one with 8.4 seconds left, and had two free throws coming.

But you missed them both.

And then you allowed Mike Stovall to hit the game-winner with less than a second left. DePaul, a team that fired their coach less than two weeks ago and hadn't won a conference game since March 6, 2008, beat you! Wha' happened?

Marquette is in rebuilding mode, no doubt. But this is a team that beat Michigan by 14, lost to West Virginia on a last-second basket, lost to Villanova by just two points on two separate occasions, and beat Georgetown. So yes, they're rebuilding, but we're not talking about NBC's nighttime programming schedule here; they've got some solid pieces in place.

But they're now at 2-4 in the Big East, down there with Seton Hall, South Florida, Rutgers, and the rest of the Big East's least.

And how about the CCA? Oops, I mean ACC. The conference is so upside-down I mixed up the name. Granted, it's early, but you've got Virginia (3-0) and Maryland (2-1) leading the way, while North Carolina--ranked #6 in the nation preseason--is 1-3 after three straight losses, and Duke is just 3-2 after a loss to NC State.

In summary, it's time to get into college basketball. After all, the regular season is more than half over (it's true), just three NFL games remain, and spring training baseball is over a month away.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Knock knock. Who's there? Boring playoff games. Boring playoff games who? Boring playoff games suck.

***I am re-posting this entry for two reasons:

1) I have a new picture of Nate Kaeding which I think provides a better sense of just how freakishly small his head is.

2) I realized who Kaeding reminds me of--the guy from Beetlejuice who gets his head shrunk(en?) near the end of the movie. Not so much in terms of the bulging eyes, wrinkled skin, and general Tim Burton-esque nightmarish appearance, but in the sense that his head is extraordinarily small.

Some thoughts from what was supposed to be The Best Weekend of the Football Season, but instead was An Opportunity to Catch Up on TiVo.

  • First--and most importantly--does any athlete have a smaller head than Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding? Michael Tucker would give him a run for his money if he still played baseball, but I can't think of anyone else who's even close. That small-headed son of a bitch missed THREE field goals in a three-point loss to the Jets, meaning my AFC Super Bowl pick is done, kaput.
  • And the Vikings ... ugh, the Vikings. They're still alive after completely obliterating the "Am I crazy or weren't the Cowboys just destroying every team in their path and looking pretty unstoppable?" Cowboys. Brett Favre is very, very good. I strongly dislike him, but he is very, very good. I was not pleased at all to see Favre advance to the NFC Championship game, but my sports-hatred of Favre will not waver. My will is strong. I shall hate seven days more.
  • I was rooting for the Cowboys to win for another reason as well: to see just how many field goals Shane Suisham could miss in the playoffs, and if Wade Phillips would eventually just end the charade and stop sending him out there. I honestly think that if the Cowboys made it all the way to the Super Bowl, we would have at some point seen Jerry Jones tackle Suisham as he walked out for a field goal attempt.
  • For the first time ever, both conference championship games will be played in domes. The only favored team not to win in the Divisional round was the Chargers, who were also the only favored team not playing in a dome. Dome teams are now 4-0 when playing at home in this year's playoffs.

Two Cubs questions

1. Should they stay or should they go?

Cubs fans (especially those who have been displaced to Arizona and those like my parents who enjoy traveling there every March) are waiting with bated breath to find out whether Tom Ricketts will move the Cubs' spring training home to Naples, Florida. The Cubs have been in Arizona since 1952 (save one year when they were in Long Beach, California), and a move to Naples would be bad for several reasons, including:

-Going from top dog to third ... dog, behind the Yankees and Red Sox, who also reside in Florida
-Longer commutes for players--13 of the 15 Arizona teams are within 45 minutes, whereas the Cubs would be 80 minutes away or more from all but two teams
-Being on the wrong side of a trend--Many teams have moved from Florida to Arizona in recent years, including the Indians (2009) and Reds (2010). 2010 will mark the first time the Cactus League has as many teams as the Grapefruit League.
-Leaving a league with a cool and edgy-sounding name for a league named after a terrible fruit.
-Forcing my parents to go to rainy Florida or simply end their Arizona tradition (hey, it's my blog, I can make that a point if I want to)

(hat tip: Bleed Cubbie Blue)


The Cubs have reached a tentative agreement with the city of Mesa to keep their spring training home out West for the next 25 years.

2. Should it stay or should it go?

While we await Ricketts' decision on this matter, the new owner has made some positive news when it comes to the Cubs' true home--Wrigley Field. Wrigley 20-14 is a series of projects which will result in "a complete renovation of the ballpark." With all the talk over the last few years about a possible new home for the team, perhaps in a Chicago suburb, having a plan in place to not only keep Wrigley but renovate and improve it is music to my ears.

The long-discussed "triangle building" at the southeast corner of Clark and Waveland (west of the park) will be a key component of the upcoming changes. Ricketts and President Crane Kenney also plan to widen the concourses and expand the restrooms (no word on the fate of the troughs). Lastly, I was ecstatic to hear Kenney say "I can't imagine the ballpark not being called Wrigley Field."

I like Wrigley as it is now, so I'm mostly just happy that the Cubs' brass seems intent on keeping it around for a while ("another 100 years," according to Kenney). But I'm confident the improvements will make for a better game day experience as well, so I look forward to the forthcoming changes!

A 2005 sketch of the proposed "triangle building." Source: Tribune

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Tonight Show with Conan O'B ... er, Jay Leno

Shocking to think that NBC is in the dumps despite the brilliant minds at work there. The bozos apparently couldn't anticipate that the ratings would drop a bit when Jay Leno passed the torch that he's been holding for 17 years. Conan doesn't even get a full year to find his way and try to get the ratings up?

I guess this means the "Best of Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" DVD will be pretty cheap.

Obviously Conan has plenty of dough and plenty of fame, and does not need anyone to shed a tear for him. That said, I do feel bad for him given that he worked his way up from SNL writer to Simpsons writer to out-of-nowhere host of Late Night to host of television's biggest institution. To achieve a lifelong dream only to see it taken away just a few months later would be difficult for anyone, even if you do have millions of dollars and millions of fans to help cushion your fall.

Props to Jimmy Kimmel for ripping Leno to shreds as a guest on Leno's own show (why in the world did they invite him on just a day after Kimmel spent his entire show mocking Leno?):

hat tip: Trevor Sierra

Conan has of course written and performed many, many funny things. One of my favorites that didn't take place on Late Night or The Tonight Show is his commencement speech to Harvard's class of 2000.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cubs lose

It's great that Geovany Soto lost 37 pounds in the offseason, but that's not the physical change that will lead to a successful 2010 season--it's the new 'do! The man's looking sharp, as you can see in the video below. And I'm going to use this as a reason to believe Soto will return to 2008 form. After all, what is the Cubs Convention for if not for fans to breathe in a healthy dose of unjustified optimism?

By the way, watch the video below if you haven't already:

The man is a walking advertisement for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"I used to be a little sluggish, used to be ... I wanted to take a nap."

Translation: "I used to go home after games and take a few bong rips."

"I have a lot of energy, I'm kind of wired all day. ... I'm active the whole day."

Translation: "I don't smoke pot any more."

Also weighing in ...

is Carlos Zambrano, who also showed up at the convention in great shape. He raved about the nutritionist and personal chef the Cubs hired, saying, 'The way to help this team is to stay healthy and be in good shape. The Cubs now have a nutritionist and a chef for us, and that's good. We can stay with that program and eat healthy and have a good year.'' (source: Tribune)

Players always sound right at the Cubs Convention. It's a fun, light-hearted atmosphere, and they're always going to say things like, "I was disappointed in (insert particular failure here), but you can tell (2010, 2011, etc.) is going to be different. (Insert GM here) has really made some great (trades/free agent pick-ups), and we're ready to have a great season."

But the Cubs aren't just sounding good this year, they're looking good. And that's nice to see.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fan unsure if yarmulke is appropriate for hat trick celebration

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

SUNRISE, Fla.--After Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss scored his third goal of the game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday (known in hockey as a hat trick), the crowd was in a frenzy and the ice was quickly covered in hats of all shapes and sizes. But in Aisle 65, Row 4, Seat 12, a confused and bewildered Jacob Milstein went back and forth in his mind as he tried to decide whether his yarmulke fit the traditional definition of "hat" and was therefore appropriate to toss onto the ice.

"I don't ... I'm not sure ... is it a hat? A cap? Is a cap a hat? Stupid hat trick," said Milstein, who explained that the complicated situation completely ruined the game for him. "I must have reached back to throw the thing at least five times. I was excited and wanted to cheer and be part of the celebration, but I was too stressed out to enjoy it. Do I have a religious duty not to throw it? Do I have a duty as a fan to throw it? But then, does it even qualify as a hat? Aaahhh!!"

Milstein said that at future games, he will leave if a player scores two goals.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Illini attempt several free throws vs. Penn State

Seemingly insignificant, right? Not when you recall that Illinois put up 33 points and not one free throw attempt in last year's home loss to the Nittany Lions.

On Tuesday, they didn't do a whole lot better in the free throw category--they attempted just six, making four of them. But they managed 54 points and a one-point victory over Penn State, which remains winless in the Big Ten.

It doesn't look like the Illini are going to be blowing anybody out this year. Though they're 4-0 in the Big Ten (enjoy it while it lasts), they beat Northwestern in overtime, handled Iowa relatively easily, had to mount a huge comeback to beat Indiana by six, and then the narrow victory over Penn State in a game in which they were favored by nine.

With neutral court losses to Utah, Bradley and Missouri, and a road loss against Georgia, Illinois will have to continue to win the games they're supposed to win if they want to dance in March. This Saturday will not be one of those games--they head to East Lansing to take on the 14-3 Spartans. Michigan State has a chance to get a head start on Purdue, who has suddenly lost two straight conference games after starting the season 14-0 overall.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A sorry apology

Apparently Mark McGwire is finally ready to "talk about the past." He had little choice, given that he will be the Cardinals hitting coach in the near future.

What amazed me about his admission that he used steroids is that he used them on and off for nearly a decade. I guess we now know for sure what fueled his remarkable statistics in the late '90s. I hope for the Cardinals' sake that he has more hitting wisdom to share than simply asking players "cream or clear?" I also think the "i" in Big Mac Land should be replaced with a giant syringe.

Shirking responsibility

Which is more ridiculous?

1) That when McGwire was summoned by Congress to provide valuable information in the effort to clean up the game of baseball, he demurred and refused to "talk about the past," and is only now willing to come forward about his steroid use because he has little choice given that he is going to be back in a spotlight of sorts as the Cardinals hitting coach.

2) His "woe is me" attitude in Monday's statement, in which he whined, "I wish I had never played in the steroid era." As if the "era" put a needle in his ass.

Birds of a feather

We know McGwire lied to the public for years, and I think we can assume his boss Tony La Russa knows more than he's willing to share as well. From a few years ago:
"I am absolutely certain that Mark earned his size and strength from hard work and a disciplined lifestyle."

And as recently as December, La Russa said:
"One of the reasons I defend Mark and have defended him and will defend him is I know in Oakland and St. Louis, we ran a 100 percent clean legal official program."

--Chicago Tribune
There are two possibilities here:

1) La Russa is full of s**t. He knew what was going on with Canseco, McGwire and presumably many other players both in Oakland and St. Louis. He lied continuously (as have other coaches, surely) to protect them and protect himself. He has vehemently done so in McGwire's case because he genuinely likes him and because he has now made the choice to bring him on as hitting coach.

2) La Russa was blinded by those sunglasses he wears, and truly believed--until Monday--that Big Mac was always clean. If that's the case, Monday's "revelation" would have to give him a great deal of pause about the hiring of McGwire. A guy that lied to him all these years? A man who helped lead baseball back from the brink while La Russa watched from the dugout, but apparently did so with some syringical assistance? What a betrayal of trust!

Yeah, #2 doesn't sound very plausible to me either. Which leaves us with option #1. Which means La Russa is full of it, just like his new hitting coach. Pete Rose bets on his team and gets banned from baseball while McGwire juices his way to the most hallowed record in all of sports and gets a job sitting next to Tony La Russa.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ben Sheets on Cubs' radar

This according to the Tribune. Sheets missed the 2009 season after elbow surgery, and has been plagued by injuries his entire career. But other than 2006, when he started just 17 games, he won 10 games or more every season from 2001-2008.

The 31-year-old was seeking a two-year deal for upwards of $20 million. Giving him that would be utterly absurd. But if Hendry could get him with an incentive-laden deal that would only pay him decent money if he were to produce at a high level, I'm all for it. There's no doubt that Sheets is at least a #3 starter when healthy, and he would provide a nice bridge from Zambrano and Lilly to Dempster and Wells.

College football's over, which means ... it's college basketball season!

With all 1,478 college football bowl games in the books, it's time to turn a bit of attention to the hardwood. A few things I'll be watching for over the next few months:

1) A wild Big Ten season

A talented but very young Illinois team (their only seniors are Dominique Keller and some dude named Bubba Chisholm) will likely be a maddeningly inconsistent team in the middle of the pack. They are, however, off to a 3-0 start in conference play, but those wins were all against teams that are expected to be bottom-feeders (Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana).

I thought Purdue might walk away with the conference title this year, but they stumbled for the first time with a loss at Wisconsin on Saturday. Wisconsin also beat Ohio State, but lost to Michigan State. Ohio State has fallen out of the rankings after losses to Michigan and Minnesota as well. Michigan State, ranked 11th in the nation, is off to the best start, having beaten Northwestern and Iowa by double digits and Wisconsin by seven.

1a) Northwestern struggling after the obligatory raising of their fans' hopes that this will finally be the year

Every year, we hear, "Wow! Northwestern looks like they can really play this year. They've been getting better and better every year, and I think they're finally going to make the tournament!"

This season, the hope stemmed from a 10-1 start and a spot in the AP poll for the first time since 1969. To celebrate the accomplishment, they lost to Illinois and then got pasted at home by Michigan State. Not yet satisfied with the amount of air they had taken out of their fans' balloon, they eked out a home victory against the Texas-Pan American Broncs (not Broncos, Broncs) in a game they trailed at halftime. Eking out a victory against a school called Texas-Pan American sounds bad, but it's even worse than it sounds. The Broncs were 1-15 heading into that game, and here are the scores of some of their losses:


So ... they're not good. Oh, Northwestern, how you do tease the Wildcat faithful.

2) Undefeated teams

Texas has looked unstoppable--their 15 wins include a 16-point win over Pitt, a 13-point win over North Carolina, and an 11-point victory over Michigan State. And Kentucky, with potential first overall draft pick John Wall, is 16-0.

3) More Big East dominance

Villanova, Syracuse, West Virginia, Georgetown and Connecticut are all ranked in the top 13, and Pittsburgh sneaked into the 23 spot as well. Additionally, Notre Dame beat West Virginia this weekend and Marquette is a team with tons of talent that will get their share of wins as well. DePaul, of course, is 0-3 in conference play (their head coach was fired Monday as the team has now lost 22 consecutive regular season Big East games).

4) The unexpected

What do the following teams have in common?

Kansas State, Mississippi, Florida State, Temple, Baylor, Brigham Young

They're all ranked. College basketball provides more surprises than most other sports, and it's always fun to see the underdogs triumph.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Six reasons no NFC team can make it to the Super Bowl

Okay, I suppose it's true that one NFC team has to make to the Super Bowl, but good luck figuring out which one it'll be. All six teams on the NFC side of the playoff bracket have pretty serious weaknesses, and it's hard to even pinpoint a favorite. While it would be rather surprising not to see either the Chargers or Colts come out of the AFC, it's difficult to recall a conference being as wide open as the NFC is this year.

Here's why each NFC team can't make it to the Super Bowl, in order of strength of reason they won't do so:


Their 10 wins are the fewest of any NFC playoff team, they had a running back go over 100 yards exactly twice the entire season, and both receiver Anquan Boldin (over 1,000 yards receiving) and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (six interceptions) were injured in the season finale.

Does that sound like a team on its way to the Super Bowl?


After torching the Patriots for 38 points on Monday Night Football, they were 11-0 and pretty much unstoppable. But it's been an awfully bumpy ride since then. Their 33-30 overtime win against the Redskins was something you couldn't get away with in a movie--it included a fumble return for a touchdown on the tail end of a Drew Brees interception with no time left in the first half, and a missed 23-yard chip shot field goal by Shaun Suisham that would have iced it.

They then edged Atlanta 26-23 despite the fact that the Falcons were relegated to their backup QB and backup RB. Next was the loss to Dallas, then a loss to the Bucs at home, and finally a giveaway game against Carolina.

My point is, they didn't simply lose to Dallas and then choose to pack it in. They "should" have lost before Dallas ruined their perfect season, and they've played like a very average team since Week 13. They were the class of the NFC for much of the season, but is that really still the case?


Andy Reid's bunch lost to the Cowboys twice this year, and will have to play in Jerry Jones's new palace in the first round. They also lost their center Jamaal Jackson, a key part of their offensive line, and the Cowboys made their offense look absolutely silly in last week's game.

The Eagles had a solid season, but do you really want to hitch your wagon to a one-dimensional offense that's overly reliant on the big play?


They were able to avoid their fourth loss in five games by beating the Giants in Week 17, but the latter part of their season was still ugly. Arguments between Childress and Favre, blowout losses to the Cardinals and Panthers, and--here's the most important thing--Adrian Peterson did not rush for 100 yards in any of their last seven games.

Can you get behind a struggling team with an aging quarterback who has stolen the reins from the NFL's premier running back?


Sorry, but it's going to continue to be a fair question until there's a different answer to it: Can Tony Romo win in January? The December slide ended with a flourish as Dallas won their final three games to steal the NFC East and the three seed. But I'll tell you this: with visions of a dropped field goal snap dancing in their heads, no one is less confident about the Cowboys' chances this Saturday than Cowboys fans themselves.


They went 7-1 in the second half of the season and Aaron Rodgers has been lights out. So what's the problem?

Two of them, actually:

1) They still can't protect Aaron Rodgers. He took 50 sacks this season, tied for most in the league with Ben Roethlisberger. In fairness, the sacks have dropped off in recent weeks, but expect teams to bring the heat in the playoffs.

2) I know, I know, all you can do is win the games on your schedule. But their 7-1 finish included wins over the 49ers, Lions, Bears, Seahawks, and a Cardinals team that wasn't even trying to win.

The Packers are the hottest team in the NFC heading into the playoffs, but do you really believe in them?

A guy named Norval

For a good read, check out Rick Reilly's latest column on Chargers coach Norv Turner.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Titan women's basketball team goes streaking

That headline might be a bit misleading. What I mean to say is that after a 77-63 victory over North Central in this year's CCIW opener, the team has now won 50 consecutive regular season games. FIFTY!

With a win Saturday, the team will be guaranteed to reach the two-year mark since their last regular season defeat on January 12, 2008 against Millikin. Interestingly, they will play Millikin January 12 of this year as well.

But before that matchup comes one of the biggest battles of the year for Mia Smith's squad, a home affair against Carthage who will come in ranked 11th in the latest poll. A win Saturday would bode very well for the hopes of another CCIW title, though we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves.

In fact, let's take a step back for a second and reiterate what the Titans have done. Not 10 straight wins in the regular season, or 20, or 30, or 40, but 50! It's easy to take the wins for granted at this point, but it was not one of Newton's Laws that the Titan women's basketball team must win every freakin' game they play. One game without focus, one horrific shooting night, a game in which a couple players foul out early--that's all it takes. But the team just keeps on keepin' on.

This year's team is incredibly balanced, with no player averaging over 25 minutes per game and ten players averaging at least four points per game. They will unfortunately be without sophomore Kylie Castans, who transferred to ISU this semester, but sophomore Olivia Lett transferred in from Division I Southern Illinois and will help fill that void.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A season of highs and lows, but mostly woes

The Bears were 9-7 in 2008, one win away from a playoff spot. In the offseason they added Jay Cutler, meaning an 10- or 11-win season was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

A 3-1 start that included a win over Pittsburgh and a win at Seattle reaffirmed the high hopes of Bears fans. But then, the proverbial wheels fell off. Any sincere belief that the Bears might make the postseason went out the window with a 41-21 home thrashing at the hands of the Cardinals, and, amazingly, the Bears found a way to go downhill from there.

Wins over the Vikings and Lions turned what could have been a laughable record into a 7-9 finish and another season without a playoff appearance, their third straight since the Super Bowl season.

Here's a look back at what went right and wrong:


Best thing: Development of the wide receivers

When the season began, the Bears' receiving corps was a gang of nobodies. Devin Hester was still transitioning from punt/kick returner to receiver, Earl Bennett had caught (hold on, let me count: 1, 2, 3 ...) ZERO passes in the NFL, Johnny Knox was a rookie, and Devin Aromashodu was an afterthought.

And while this part of the offense still needs a lot of work (and one or two upgrades), the receivers were more consistent than I would have expected. Hester and Bennett both eclipsed the 700-yard mark, Knox is about as quick as they come, and Aromashodu came on late out of nowhere.

But while the Bears have many needs to address this offseason, adding a big-time receiver is definitely one of them. After all, none of the Bears' receivers cracked the top 45 in receiving yards, and no Bears receiver could muster even half the receiving yards of the NFL's leading receiver, Andre Johnson.

Worst thing: Offensive line

Cutler was sacked 35 times on the season, third-most in the league. Orlando Pace sucked, Olin Kreutz is getting old, and the rest of the line routinely invited defenders into the pocket for a nice little snack--er, sack. For all the attention given to the skill players in football, it's amazing how many wins and losses come down to the front lines. And the Bears simply didn't have an offensive line that could open holes for the running game, protect Cutler, and enable the Bears to win consistently.

Dishonorable mentions: Jay Cutler's interceptions, Matt Forte's dropoff, Greg Olsen's disappointing year


Best thing: Lance Briggs

His 118 tackles were good for 15th in the league. He didn't get a ton of credit because the "D" was so bad overall, but he had a solid season.

Honorable mentions: Experience for guys like Nick Roach and Jamar Williams, Zack Bowman's six picks

Worst thing: Rush defense

Are you kidding me? 23rd in rush yards allowed? 126 yards per game? Remember when the Bears would shut down the run? When they were tough, and mean, and would hit you in the mouth if you tried to run up the middle? If you do remember that, your memory goes back at least a year. Because this season, teams ran at will against this front seven.

Dishonorable mentions: Turnover differential (-8), Pass rush


Best thing: Brad Maynard

He averaged 41.4 yards per punt, fourth in the NFL. Strangely, some of the best punters were on the worst teams, including Buffalo's Brian Moorman, Cleveland's Dave Zastudil, and Oakland's Shane Lechler, who broke his own single-season net punting average record.

Honorable mentions: Robbie Gould, Knox's kick return average (2nd in NFL)

Worst thing: Devin Hester's punt returns

Though Hester had a decent year as a receiver, the coaching staff is not yet off the hook for asking him to no longer focus on a task that he could do better than anyone else in the league at one point. He averaged only 7.8 yards per punt return in '09, just above Bobby Wade of the Chiefs and just below Chris Carr of the Ravens. Yeah, exactly.

Dishonorable mention: Kick coverage


Best thing: Cutler's strong finish

The Bears have a lot of holes to fill and a lot of problems. And while Cutler's interceptions (he led the league) and inconsistency are on the list of problems, there's no doubt that he is the centerpiece of the Bears' future, both because of his potential and because of the contract extension he signed during the season.

You can blame the line, you can blame the receivers, and rightly so. But Cutler deserves part of the blame as well. For much of the season, he played--simply put--badly. I would have to imagine that even he would admit as much.

That he was able to finish the season with two nearly identical--and solid--performances should bode well for his confidence heading into 2010. He needs to Matrix the memory of 2009 from his brain and hopefully be left only with the taste of those final two games. For the Bears to be successful next season, they'll need a better Jay Cutler.

Worst thing: The win over the Vikings

Hey, don't get me wrong. While in the broad sense the win meant nothing, it may have been the victory I enjoyed most all season. But 6-10 sounds a lot worse than 7-9, and that slight difference in record may have changed Angelo's answer to the question, "Should he stay or should he go?" Lovie will be back next year, though several of their coaches were axed and Lovie will no longer serve as defensive coordinator. Ron Turner got the boot as well.

With Bill Cowher seemingly out there for the taking, it disappoints me that an overtime win against the Vikings might have saved Lovie's job. Cowher was reportedly interested in coaching the Bears, but was then linked to a few other teams. But Black Monday turned into Light Gray Monday, with only the Redskins' Jim Zorn getting fired. With no job opening in Carolina, Tampa, or almost anywhere else at the moment, Cowher may not coach in 2010 after all (though some reports say he could be lured to Buffalo).

Perhaps Cowher will do TV for another year and the Bears will have another crack at him. But as far as I'm concerned, it's unfortunate that Angelo and Lovie will be calling the shots again next year, perhaps in large part because of a meaningless (though exciting) win.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cardinals re-sign Matt Holliday

SI's Jon Heyman reports that the Cardinals have agreed to a seven-year, $120 million deal with Matt Holliday.

Holliday, 29, will provide much-needed protection for Albert Pujols. The signing will likely make the Cardinals the favorite to win the NL Central this year, though we must keep in mind that they lost Mark DeRosa and may still lose Joel Pineiro, Rick Ankiel, and Brad Thompson.

Looking beyond 2010, the real question for the Cardinals becomes whether they will be able to afford both Holliday and Pujols when Pujols becomes a free agent after the 2010 season (he has a team option for 2011).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Why is Pat Summerall still announcing?

The best picture Wikipedia could get.

This guy has come out of retirement more times than Brett Favre.

After calling Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 at the age of 71, Summerall announced his retirement, and the ears of sports fans from coast to coast rejoiced. But lo, Summerall came out of retirement for the 2002 season, and it sucked, but he retired again at the end of the season.

And so the Sea of Crappy Broadcasters was thus tamed, its waves less ferocious than ever before. But in 2006 he did rise again, returning to FOX to announce NFL games. And then he signed on to do the Cotton Bowl in 2007, which he has continued to do through this year's game, which was played on Saturday.

Summerall's a broadcasting legend, and he certainly he has the right to earn money calling football games for as long as someone's willing to pay him to do so. But as a fan, I can think of several reasons he should call it quits:
  • Forget that he's now 79 years old, I've never enjoyed listening to him. I can't judge the early part of his career (he began in 1964), but ever since the 90s, he's been about as excitable as, say, a 79-year-old. A typical call of a last-second, game-winning touchdown goes something like this: "Back to pass. ... Touchdown." 96 percent of his calls make it truly difficult to tell if he is, in fact, living.
  • As stated above, HE'S 79 YEARS OLD! Whereas, say, Harry Caray was a fun-loving drunk who did everything he could to entertain the fans when he broadcast his last game at the age of 83, Summerall is more of a typical 79-year-old: tired, disinterested and disengaged. And he speaks veeeery, veeeery, slooooooowwwwwwly. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that in order to best prepare himself for the Cotton Bowl, he placed a bowl of cotton in his mouth.
  • As he's gotten older, he's added "mistake-prone" to his list of announcing attributes. In the few minutes of the Cotton Bowl that I watched, he said "that might be enough for a first down" on a play where the running back had it by about two yards, and said "Yes sir" after a field goal had clearly sailed wide left and the refs had waved their arms to indicate a miss.
It's time for Summerall to take a cue from his former partner John Madden and call it a career.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bears will try to end season on a positive note

When the Lions beat the Redskins in Week 3, they turned a corner. After all, any kind of win over any kind of team, provided it ends a 19-game losing streak, is a big one. With the monkey finally off their back, Matt Millen gone, and a solid rookie quarterback behind center, it looked like they might return to some semblance of decency.

But that's a corner they haven't quite turned yet. The Lions lost their next six games, beat the Browns in a 38-37 thriller, then lost their next five games by a combined 98 points. In fairness, Matt Stafford has not played the last three games due to a knee injury, and has been placed on injured reserve (meaning his season is over). Coach Jim Schwartz has gone back and forth between has-been Daunte Culpepper and never-been Drew Stanton in Stafford's absence.

The Bears lit up Detroit for 48 points in their first meeting in Week 4, winning 48-24 with a dominant second half. With the AFC playoff picture anything but settled, and four teams vying for the 2 seed in the NFC, not many people will be tuned in to see the Bears' second matchup with the Lions. Neither team has much to play for, but it would be nice to see the Bears end the season on a high note after a big win over the Vikings last week.


Give Forte a chance. He's had just one 100-yard game this season. Who was it against? (Pause to give readers chance to answer ...) That's right, the Lions. In fact, Forte piled up 121 yards on just 12 carries back in Week 4. The Lions allow 125 rushing yards per game, and Forte is actually still within shouting distance of a 1,000-yard season (granted, he'd have to shout
pretty loudly--he needs 172 yards).

Get Cutler out of the pocket. This one's courtesy of the Trib's Dan Pompei, who points out that Cutler's career passer rating is 114.3 outside the pocket versus 79.3 in the pocket. In one of his best games of the year this past Monday night, he was 6-for-7 for 93 yards (and one interception) when throwing from outside the pocket.

Shut down the run. Maurice Morris, the former Seahawk who has assumed the role of the primary running back after Kevin Smith suffered an injury, has essentially had one great game and one terrible game. With neither Drew Stanton nor Daunte Culpepper having had much success replacing Stafford, the Bears may as well load the box early and shut down the running game, therefore putting the onus on the Lions' unproductive passing game.

Want it. I know, that's pretty cheesy, but the fact is, neither team has much to play for here in Week 17. It can be easy to lose focus when you can see relaxation and warm vacation destinations in your near future, but as long as the Bears come out with a true desire to win, their superior ability and athleticism should enable them to prevail one last time as they head into the offseason.