Saturday, September 30, 2006

CFB Saturday Tailgate!

Sorry I'm late! Use the Comments area to break down the entire day's slate of games: Pre-game, mid-game and post-game... this is your place to have your say and offer up the very first wave of analysis on the day's action -- as it's happening. Check back througout the day and night!

-- D.S.

Friday, September 29, 2006

End-of-Week Review

Thanks for another great week, everyone. (Best week yet, actually.)

Don't forget to have your say about today's big picks:
*NFL Week 4!
*CFB Weekend!

Meanwhile, here's my weekly ranking of my Top 10 favorite newsmakers of the week:

10. Byron Nelson: R.I.P. to golfing great
9. Rutgers: Ranked for 1st time since '76
8. Chris Simms: Got some 'spleenin to do
7. Madden Curse: B-button to heal foot?
6. Twins: Still time to win AL Central
5. Billy Beane: A's clinch AL West
4. Tigers: What a difference 3 years make
3. Cardinals: By Monday, we'll see...
2. Superdome: What a sight on Monday night
1. T.O.: It was played out by the 2nd hour

Comments: Who was YOUR most significant newsmaker of the week?

-- D.S.

NFL Week 4 Preview and Picks

Stop by anytime Sunday for my weekly NFL Tailgate -- comment on the games before they happen, while they happen and after they happen. Get the first jump on the upcoming week's storylines and trends!

Bears over Seahawks
: Game of the Week 1 is in primetime on Sunday night. The NFC's best team proves it against its Alexander-less reigning champs.

Bengals over Pats: Game of the Week 2. Odell Thurman at his sloppiest could see that the Bengals are too strong on both sides of the ball for the suddenly declining Pats.

Now, here comes my crazy string of picking the road team to win:

Chargers over Ravens: Game of the Week 1, the only matchup featuring two AFC unbeatens. You saw my Power Rankings: The Bolts are the best team in the league right now. Don't let the Week 3 bye lull you.

Jags over Redskins: Hope Mark Brunell enjoyed his record-setting 22 straight completions last week; against this Jags D, it's back to shitting the bed.

Cards over Falcons: Warner falters, Leinart steps in and leads Arizona to a huge road win -- and Mr. Virility is the new starting QB.

Vikings over Bills: It's too early in the fall for a dome team to be concerned with Buffalo weather. Plus, the Bills stink.

Cowboys over Titans: Precisely as foreshadowed by a non-suicide attempt and consequent media frenzy, T.O. scores 2 TDs.

49ers over Chiefs: Yes, you should have drafted Frank Gore over Larry Johnson. (Yes, I know Gore is coming off a Week 3 injury.)

Colts over Jets: Reggie Wayne goes nuts on the Jets secondary to honor his late brother.

Dolphins over Texans: Even the struggling Daunte Culpepper is going to be able to find his game against that Houston secondary.

Saints over Panthers: I refuse to pick against the Saints until they lose. I don't care if it costs me a nick in my picks record.

Lions over Rams: Jon Kitna had 342 yards passing last week with 2 TDs; the Rams' top scoring threat is turning out to be kicker Jeff Wilkins.

Browns over Raiders: This would be the worst game of the week (if not the year) if not for the HUGE draft-order implications.

Count that up: That's 11 (out of 14) games where I'm taking the road team. I'm either genius or headed for my Worst. Week. Ever.

MNF: Eagles over Packers. "We come not to praise Brett Favre, but to bury him." (More on Monday)

Last Week: 7-7

'06 Season: 31-15

-- D.S.

CFB Weekend Preview

Don't forget to drop by the blog all day Saturday for our "Commenting Tailgate." It runs all day long, and you can pop in to analyze pre-game, mid-game and post-game -- or just check out what everyone else is saying.

The biggest game of the weekend, by far, is No. 1 Ohio St at No. 13 Iowa. It is, arguably, OSU's toughest game of the season. (Sorry, Michigan fans.)

I don't see it being easy, but I don't see Ohio St. losing either. (See Auburn's 24-17 win over S. Carolina last night.) Iowa strikes me as a wee bit overrated, and I'm sure there are Big Ten-specialist bloggers who can back me up. (Disclosure: As a Northwestern fan, I sort of loathe Iowa football by rule.)

The thing that impresses me so much about OSU is that the vaunted offense ain't THAT great, but the offseason-dissed D is fantastic. They produce big plays, and just a handful of big plays win big games.

This weekend's picks:

1 Ohio St over at 13 Iowa
3 USC over at Washington St.
5 Florida over Alabama
6 Michigan over at Minnesota
7 Texas over Sam Houston St.
9 LSU over Mississippi St.
10 Georgia over at Mississippi
11 VA Tech over 24 GA Tech
12 Notre Dame over Purdue
14 Oregon over at Arizona St
15 Tennessee over at Memphis
18 Clemson over LA Tech
20 Cal over at Oregon St.
21 Nebraska over Kansas
22 Boise St over at Utah (TRAP)
23 Rutgers over at S. Florida
25 Missouri over Colorado

What's the upshot? I've got no upsets this week. What that means is that STYLE POINTS will be in full effect. HOW a team wins can (and should) matter. It's not about the margin of victory but its quality is important.

Commenters: Aside from the obvious (Ohio St. vs Iowa), what's your most intriguing games/storylines/subplots this weekend?

-- D.S.

Friday A.M. Quickie:
Weekend Chokery!

Astros a half-game back! Cards choking it all away! Playoff races that go down to the final weekend are cool enough.

To have one of them involve one of the great standings choke-jobs in recent team-sports history makes it all the more compelling.

Fans nationally can be ambivalent about the Astros but still find themselves rooting like hell for them (and against the Cards), if only to see this choke happen. To review:

The Cards led the Astros by 8.5 games...

Only 9 games ago!

The Cards are on the verge of shattering the baseball record for chokery: No team in history has ever blown a September lead of more than 6.5 games.

I just read that it's possible that the Cards might have to play a sort of "playoff-playoff-playoff." What the hell does THAT mean?

A playoff would be the LDS, of course. Standard stuff.

A "playoff-playoff" would be one game against the Astros to decide the NL Central division winner, head-to-head.

A "playoff-playoff-playoff" (or "playoff-cubed") would be a make-up game against the Giants on Monday, to force a playoff (or win the division outright?).

If the Cards are a half-game ahead (or behind) the Astros after Sunday, St. Louis would play the Giants on Monday to figure out whether a Cards-Astros "playoff-playoff" game on Tuesday is necessary.

Can you imagine being the Giants in that scenario? You could play the ultimate spoiler – or, alternatively, wonder what your motivation could possibly be? (I'm guessing the latter.)

Either way: Cards fans must be f-r-e-a-k-i-n-g.

Twins tie Tigers for AL Central lead: I'd say that it doesn't matter, because both teams are already in the playoffs, so who cares?

(Well, how about that Detroit's likely Game 1 starter Kenny Rogers was throttled last night? Or that the Twins got a gem from Brad "Running-on-Fumes" Radke?)

T.O. fires his personal trainer: Wouldn't you, if your trainer yapped to the media about all of your personal business?

So either the trainer WANTED to get out, getting a little glory for himself along the way, or he lacks such judgment that it's questionable why T.O. would have such a dope on his payroll anyway.

Hell, I think it's the most sensible thing that T.O. has done all week.

Pedro out for entire postseason: I'm almost ready to say that the Mets are done as NL contenders.

Not just because Pedro would have been such a huge advantage in the playoffs by being on the mound – he's just such a presence.

Maybe he can still be that team leader from the dugout, but it's not the same as having him out there actually pitching.

The Mets' playoff pitching rotation is pretty sketchy. They're going to have to score a ton of runs to be competitive.

Was Frank Robinson fired by the Nats? He was the right guy for the inaugural season, but a new owner means a new direction.

(Like I said yesterday: They should make a play for Joe Girardi.)

Larry Brown vs. Knicks battle: If I was David Stern, how much would I give Larry Brown in his grievance vs. the Knicks?

I think I came up with a novel plan in the Quickie when this story first broke:

*Give Larry Brown nothing.
(Not a freaking nickel.)

*Fine the Knicks the $40 million remaining on Brown's contract.
(For being so stupid to hire him.)

No. 2 Auburn wins at S. Carolina: Was it dominant? No. But in conference play, on the road, it was dominant enough.

I fully expect all of you to throw that back in my face when I'm criticizing Ohio St. for winning ugly at Iowa on Saturday night.

TCU (finally) loses: Well, now THAT was a little unexpected. I know BYU was considered a "tough" game, but it WAS at TCU. And wasn't TCU supposed to be underrated?

The biggest impact? The most likely non-BCS team to go unbeaten (and crash the party) is now out of contention. (Was TCU looking ahead all the way to bowl season? Perhaps.)

The hope was that the new "5th" BCS bowl -- specifically created to placate non-BCS conferences -- would have at least one unbeaten non-BCS "Cinderella" (that was MY Big Idea for it, at least).

Now, TCU might be the best of the non-BCS-league teams, but by Monday, they'll be lucky to find a spot in the tenuous "20-25" range of the Top 25 poll.

Coming later today: Complete college football weekend preview!

NFL Notes: Is the NFL going to play more regular-season games outside the U.S.? I'm all for globalization of the NFL, but isn't it a little unfair to fans who only get 8 home games a year, as it is?

Trent Green out another two weeks? How many KC fans are with me that the best strategy is to tank the rest of this inevitably abysmal season to get a QB of the future, like Brady Quinn?

I love that Bill Belichick was able to lighten up and talk a little playful trash about Chad Johnson. Johnson is the anti-T.O. – an egomaniacal superstar WR who still manages to come across as a fun-loving guy.

You know what? I think I'm ready to nominate Chad Johnson as the "Face of Football."

Today's Must-Read: David Roth worked at Topps, and tells all about the experience. I met David at a party this spring. He's a great guy, and this is a great piece, written for Slate.

Did anyone else catch Deadspin Hall of Famer Carl Monday being profiled on the Daily Show last night? I was kind of hoping they'd interview Will Leitch for it, or at least name-check Deadspin. Ah well. I have to be satisfied with them humiliating Monday himself. -- D.S.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

T.O.: Uh, On Second Thought...

So it turns out that now the cops are calling T.O.'s incident an "accidental overdose."

Now, maybe it was.

Or, upon further review, maybe the cops tweaked the official story because of pressure from... well, pick your source.

But make no mistake: If "accidental overdose" was there from the start, yesterday's utter craziness would never have happened.

What was all the fuss about again?

-- D.S.

Ethics Item: Quitters Never Win?

Time for a little ethics debate:

I'm guessing most of you saw this story about the 0-4 Michigan h.s. team whose season was cancelled -- they hadn't won a game, or even scored a point. Administrators feared for the kids' safety.

What do you think of the decision:

*Safety first or quitting?

*Which side shows more sportsmanship?

Here's my take: The school and county are within their rights to cancel the competition with the other schools in the district, but I put it absolutely back onto them to find a way for these kids to compete.

For example, they could look around the state (or even the region) for other weak schools who can't compete with the "big boys," then let them play a modified season. In college, this is called "Division 1-AA," "Division 2" and "Division 3."

The point is this: I'm all for the safety of the kids, but taking away their sport is wrong and it's on the administrators to make it right.

-- D.S.

NFL Power Rankings

I could present each team with a bit of commentary, but this is really just an argument-starter to get everyone's juices going for the weekend.

Where am I way off? Where am I way WAY off? Use the Comments section to weigh in. For now, let's go with this focused debate: Who should be No. 1 and why?

1. Chargers
2. Bengals
3. Bears
4. Colts
5. Saints
6. Jaguars
7. Ravens
8. Seahawks
9. Broncos
10. Eagles
11. Vikings
12. Pats
13. Cowboys
14. Falcons
15. Panthers
16. Jets
17. Rams
18. Giants
19. Steelers
20. Dolphins
21. Niners
22. Redskins
23. Cards
24. Packers
25. Bills
26. Titans
27. Browns
28. Chiefs
29. Texans
30. Lions
31. Bucs
32. Raiders

ESPN Mobile: Lessons Learned?

For a sports-media business project that cost $150 million and just folded, a little Thursday-morning quarterbacking isn't so inappropriate.

And I'm a little obsessed with the intersection of sports and business. So let me dust off my Harvard MBA hat...

Why did ESPN Mobile's original strategy fail?

I've got a very simple way of explaining it, which I've been peddling since the day the product was announced:

ESPN *ON* a phone is hot.
ESPN *AS* a phone is not.

ESPN has always been about the content; the day it decided it wanted to get into the handset and phone service business, it veered away from that zone.

The vast majority of consumers were never going to switch handsets; they were never going to switch carriers. Not simply for ESPN.

ESPN is a huge part of fans' lives, but it's as content. A person's phone (and service) is a person's infrastructure.

It's as apples-oranges different as the clothes you wear versus the veins in your body. Put in media terms, it's like ESPN laying cable to be wired to your TV and asking to be your cable provider, instead of simply concentrating on the content and having an independent cable provider pipe it through.

So the bad news is that ESPN spent $150 million to find this out. (Why didn't I pitch my expert-MBA consulting services way back when?!)

But the good news is that the new direction -- to simply license the content to any wireless carrier that wants to pay for it -- isn't just better than the old one; it's been the optimal strategy all along.

ESPN gets to go back to what they do best: Creating content. They license it to as many carriers as they can. They reach as many fans as possible.

The remaining question is how much they'll charge the carriers to have the ESPN content -- and what kind of cost will be passed along to the consumer?

Will consumers be asked to pay some monthly nominal fee, HBO-style, for ESPN content? Will it be more than nominal?

Will carriers offer it for free, in an effort to entice consumers to switch carriers? (Know what? That's not ESPN's problem anymore, which is the entire point.)

Some of us saw it coming, and it's also too easy to say in hindsight that "they never should have been in this business in the first place."

But if there's a silver lining to the execution of this project, it's how fast they recognized the mistake and the willingness to sharply pivot back to a strategy right in their wheelhouse.

At business school, the entire curriculum was based around case studies. This is a pretty fascinating case: About business failure, yes, but also about trying to recover from that failure.

-- D.S.

T.O.: O.D. (or Didn't He?)

I have digested WAY too much T.O.-related content this morning, mostly from columnists around the country. Let me try to sum it up, Quickie-style, so you don't have to spend your time on it.

Here, in a baker's dozen of lines -- a mere 56 words (70 syllables!) -- I will explain EVERYTHING opined about T.O. over the last 24 hours:

"T.Ode to T.O. Reactions"

- He tried to kill himself!

No, he didn't!

- He's a egomaniacal prig!

No, he's just troubled!

- Loathe him!

Pity him!

- He's playing us!

He's fooling himself!

- Can we both agree that the media coverage was over-the-top?

Yes, agreed!

- Good! Can we move on now?

Yes! Should I start him in my fantasy league on Sunday?

- Sigh.

-- D.S.

Thursday A.M. Quickie:
Everything *but* T.O.

Cards sidestep chokery (for now): Cards fans breathe SLIGHTLY easier after beating the Padres – because the Astros won again, too. (Of COURSE they did.) With 4 to play, the Cards are up 1.5 games. Still plenty of time to choke on it.

I'm with some other sports columnists and fans: It's Clemens' fault.

Dodgers toying with Phillies fans emotions: The Phillies win, the Dodgers win. The Phils are still 1 GB LA for the NL Wild Card. I can't think of a fan east or north (or south) of LA who wants to see the Dodgers make the playoffs ahead of the Phillies.

AL Central Watch: Tigers lose, but Twins can't capitalize. Considering the division runner-up gets the Yankees in the first round of the ALDS, perhaps they could play with a bit more urgency.

Pedro: Questionable for NLDS? After last night's rocking (8H, 7R, 2HR, 2.2 IP), Pedro might not pitch in the NLDS.

That's too bad, because that might be the only playoff series the pitching-poor Mets get.

Even in the weak-ass NL, the Mets could end up as this year's version of the team that finishes with the league's best record, but blows it in the LDS. Despite (or maybe because of) Pedro.

Yankees set ALDS pitching: Wang (19 wins), Mussina and Unit in Games 1, 2 and 3. Between that and the absolutely sick lineup, they should be considered the favorite to win the World Series.

(Who else is OK with Wang being a Top 3 finisher in the AL Cy Young race? Who would have thought he'd become the team's ace?)

Managerial notes: Frank Robinson out in D.C.? If I was Stan Kasten, I would out-bid the Cubs for Joe Girardi. Felipe Alou done in SF? If I was the Marlins, I would bring him in to replace Girardi. Robinson? Sorry, guy. And round and round she goes...

Shaun Alexander still hurt: He got a second opinion, but it was the same as the first. Here's another second opinion that confirms the first one: Shoulda skipped the Madden cover.

Bonzi Wells to the Rockets: Two points to make here:

(1) Wells turned down an offer of 5Y/$36M to stay with the Kings, a playoff team, to take a 2Y/$5M offer to go to the Rockets, a non-playoff team. Get a new agent, man.

(2) Wonder how Wells is going to enjoy playing with a gunner like T-Mac? Bonzi will be the third option in that offense, behind McGrady and Yao. Hope he likes rebounding as much as his stats indicate he does.

Odell Thurman banned for the season: Hmm, perhaps it's because he didn't understand the concept of "staying clean while already suspended." How many games for Chris Henry puking out the car window?

Anyone got a pint of "lean?" Maybe I should ask the Chargers' Terrence Kiel. What's "lean?" A potent cocktail of cough syrup and soft drinks. Kiel was busted for trying to ship cough syrup back to Texas, where apparently "lean" is the new Grey Goose.

CFB Tonight: Here's your chance to see No. 2 Auburn in a quality game -- AT South Carolina and the Ol' Ball Coach. The Gamecocks aren't what they used to be, but they are still a "name" opponent on national TV in primetime.

With a dominant display on national TV, there's a chance that Auburn could pick up some first-place votes -- given the trouble Ohio State is projected to have at Iowa on Saturday.

Meanwhile, not many people will be watching, but you can catch unbeaten TCU – nation's longest winning streak! – on Versus (nee OLN) against (or "versus") BYU. The Cougars aren't much of a stumbling block for TCU en route to an unbeaten season; let's judge them on how impressively they win, though, not on the schedule alone.

The new BlogPoll is up: Here's the link, and you can imagine that I'm tweaked that Michigan flip-flopped with Florida at 5 and 6 from the week before. (And there's no love for TCU. Haters!)

Tomorrow, I'll have the usual Friday mayhem of a complete Top 25 preview, with predictions.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

T.O.: The Last Word

The Last Word on T.O.? It's YOURS.

You're the editor of a tabloid newspaper like the New York Post. What's your screaming back-page headline about T.O. tomorrow? You can include a secondary headline if you want.

It could be some wordplay, an editorial statement or whatever you want.

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

-- D.S.

Simmons Chat: Not Me!

I interrupt the non-stop T.O. coverage to briefly clarify a detail from Bill Simmons' chat today on (which I didn't know about until someone emailed me that my name came up).

Most important: I did NOT write in to the chat. It was an imposter. (And all my Morning Quickie chat participants already knew it wasn't me, I presume.) I can't stress this enough. That's not how I operate, and it's a little annoying that someone did that.

Here's the exchange in its entirety, submitted without further comment:

Luke (Nashville)
How many more years do you see yourself being the Sports Guy if you do leave the Disney family are you going to set up a blog similar to what Shanoff has done?

Who's Shanoff?

Shanoff (NY)
That. Hurts.

Just. Kidding. Although I wish you had worked as hard on the Quickie as you do on the blog.

Actually, some response from me is probably merited. But I'm going to take the high road. It's WAY too easy to play media critic. Trust me.

-- D.S.

T.O.: The Aftermath

Update (3:50 p.m.): I'm not saying T.O. isn't full of it, but it's looking more and more like today's OHSWEETJEEBUS coverage was a weeeeeee bit overblown. Not to argue that Michael Irvin is the voice of reason in all this, but I actually believe T.O. that he didn't try to commit suicide.

Why? For precisely the same reason I usually don't buy anything he says:

If he DID try to commit suicide, don't you think he would TOTALLY 'fess up -- what could get him more attention than that? It would absolutely shift his entire image...certainly make him more sympathetic. For a conniving media whore, it's all upside to admitting to trying to kill himself.

(Don't you think if he could admit to it, he would? Frankly, even if he didn't, I wonder why he didn't SAY he did, even if THAT was the manufactured story? Again: If he's the media whore I think he is, there's very little downside to him admitting to trying to kill himself, whether he actually did or not.)

So I'll take him at face value and move on. I'm not expecting sports media to do the same thing -- not with all the time and energy invested in rapt attention -- but it's in everyone's best interests.

If he doesn't want to admit to it -- or, hell, even if he's telling the truth -- can we all just move on? (No? Ah well. It was worth a try...)

-- D.S.

T.O.: The Afternoon Phase

OK, I can't possibly live-blog this TO thing entirely by myself, so I'm going to encourage any of you following the TO coverage -- whether on TV or online, via or blogs or whatever -- to chime in with your "coverage of the coverage" or just your analysis of the unfolding events. (Like the "experts" have anything more valuable or knowledgable to say than any of the rest of us?) Have at it!

T.O. Tried to KILL Himself?!

OK, of all of T.O.'s "look-at-me" publicity stunts, this would -- by far -- be the topper.

Trying to KILL himself?!

I'm sorry, I didn't include enough punctuation there:


It's mind-boggling: This is sports' ultimate narcissist...

...Trying to commit suicide?

If you thought there were other sports storylines today, you can just forget about that now.

Before we know anything, a few questions:

What were his motivations?
Did he do it for the attention?
Was it the meds he was on?
Is playing for Parcells THAT bad?

And, finally, this one:

Was it the pressure (and result) of being the fans' -- and absolutely the media's -- No. 1-ranked "Bad Guy" that drove him to it?

I'm going to predict this: Fan and media treatment of T.O. will lighten up substantially after this. (Well, maybe except in Philly.)

Update: I'm going to point to the Deadspin coverage, which includes a Comments section to the story that is absolutely NOT for you if you see absolutely no humor in this. But humor is also a way to deal with or filter the news; this just about covers it.

This is a great example of a breaking-news story where bloggers are ahead of mainstream media in terms of offering opinion/reaction/analysis... and blog COMMENTERS are even ahead of bloggers themselves.

When I wrote the Quickie, I always loved it when a story broke in the morning, because I could be first on the site with an opinion take -- even if it was only a place-holder until the appropriate sport columnist came in with a longer opinion. I always felt like I was adding value and taking full advantage of the medium -- even if the opinion was "insta-gut" or half-baked. Readers want their opinion as fast as the story itself is posted.

Mainstream media (even online) is still trying to catch up to consumer appetite -- that's why blogs are so effective (and why comments on blogs are even more effective: The opinion of many, instantly, being even more effective than the opinion of one, instantly.)

That's a lot of "inside baseball" -- the story itself (and everyone's reactions) remains jaw-droppingly fascinating. I mean, of all the possible athletes, it just HAD to be T.O., didn't it?

-- D.S.

Wednesday A.M. Quickie:
Cards Chokery, Cont'd

Cards epic choke continues: I'm reading "The Echoing Green" right now, the full story about the 1951 "Shot Heard Round the World," which capped a wild fall comeback by the Giants to catch the Dodgers and force a playoff.

Right now, the Cards could use a little of the Giants sign-stealing-style cheating to fend off the Astros and avoid MLB's biggest regular-season division-title choke in the last decade.

If it meant the difference between winning and losing the playoffs, would Cards fans approve of a move like stealing signs? (After all, this is the same fan base that made Mark McGwire a god even though he turned out to be the poster guy for the Steroids Era.)

More on this story at the end of the post, because I want to get to the other storylines of the day.

Bonds to play in '07: Based on his 26 HR this season, Hank Aaron's record is as good as broken. (Bonds only needs 22 to do it.)

The BIG question, though, is WHERE? Will he stay in San Francisco? Will he move to the American League to DH?

Here's the upshot: All but a handful of teams would be CRAZY not to make a play for him: He'll be the biggest draw in MLB next season.

Wait: How about Bonds in BOSTON? That's Big Papi's idea, if the Red Sox are stupid enough to trade Manny during the offseason.

Ortiz tacitly approved shipping Manny out of town, but only if the team got someone to protect Papi's prodigious backside. (He ain't hitting 54 HR without a bodyguard.)

The name Ortiz threw out? Bonds.

(Barry in Boston? That year-long frenzy would be worth paying to see.)

Schilling drops "IF"-bomb: As in, "If I come back next year..." Boston media went appropriately bat-shit over this.

Schilling insists it was a rhetorical slip, but he's WAY too media-savvy for that to happen. Maybe he realized he and his team are off the MLB radar and wanted to do something to get back onto it.

A's clinch AL West: "Moneyball" is back, baby. Just in time to make a run to the World Series (as predicted in my Quickie preview in April).

The Tigers are the anti-Cards: Win yesterday holds off Twins (who also won), keeping DET 1 GA of MIN. (Meanwhile, the Tigers are playing for the playoffs; they're going to pull Verlander from his next start to get him ready for the ALDS.)

Dusty Baker wants an answer: "Sooner rather than later." OK, let me make things easy: You're fired. Now, where's Girardi's phone number...?

Hold on: Girardi lobbying to SAVE his job? Sure, you could see it that way, or you could simply see it as public posturing to continue to make him look like the victim in his battle with the owner.

T.O. hospitalized for allergic reaction: What, did his body finally reject the bullshit flowing through his veins?

J'ag-cuse! Are the Colts dirty? That's what Jags coach Jack Del Rio says. Sour grapes? Hey, I'm a Jags fan: I'm on Del Rio's side here.

Warner still Cards starting QB: Well, that "Leinart-to-start" rumor was as baseless as a degree from an online "university."

Chargers' Kiel arrested: San Diego is lining up as the Bengals of the AFC West. If the Chargers and Bengals meet in the AFC title game, will there be enough probation officers to cover the need?

Vinny Testaverde to the Pats? They're looking at him. He's so old, he makes Brad Johnson look spry. This has to happen.

"Hoops Academy" update: There was a huge summit in LA yesterday to talk about some sort of national hoops academy. I have a lot of opinions about this, which I'll try to put together for an item later today.

Dirk signs extension through 2011: Here's a prediction: The Mavs will never do better than last season, but Dirk ends this new deal in the Hall of Fame.

World's Strongest Man Update: The first American in 24 years won the most recent World's Strongest Man competition.

(Shout out to Magnus Magnussen: Holla!)

Notice how no one has ever suggested we institute drug-testing for Strongest Man. And, yet, we praise its champion and flock to watch its tractor-pulling, keg-tossing glories.

Maybe the Olympics should switch to the "Strongest Man" attitude: Hey, do what you gotta do.

Byron Nelson dead at 94: Be honest, how many of you didn't even know the golf legend was still alive as of yesterday?

If you're under 40, you never saw him play – the closest thing was watching the "Byron Nelson Classic."

MNF: Highest. Rating. Ever. At least, for an ESPN show. And it's the second-highest-rated show on cable ever, still trailing the unstoppable Gore-Perot NAFTA debate.

(The true amazingness of these TV-ratings stories is that a public-policy debate was the highest-rated show on cable of all time. Will it EVER be topped? If the Saints homecoming game can't do it -- and it almost did -- I'm not sure what can.)

Still, this most recent MNF rating is pretty amazing. But will it represent the high point?

Undoubtedly, it was the result of an unprecedented combo of ESPN's promotion skills plus the biggest human-interest story the NFL has seen in decades. As the season goes on, it remains to be seen whether the football-related (as opposed to human-interest) match-ups will be as compelling (or, more specifically, as widely watched).

Meanwhile, don't think that the executives over at NBC weren't tracking those MNF-in-N.O. ratings:

I am sure that NBC will take advantage of the new "flex" scheduling for Sunday night, even if it means PASSING on a more intriguing playoff-implicating match-up in exchange for more human interest from New Orleans.

(Though, at this rate, the Saints will be involved in late-season playoff-implication games, too.)

More on today's top story: The Cards have lost 7 straight; the Astros have won 7 straight, leaving them just 1.5 GB.

The Astros have 5 to play: 2 more at Pittsburgh and 3 at Atlanta. Both teams should absolutely roll over to Houston to make things as brutal as possible on the Cards. Hey, why not?

Meanwhile, the Cards play the final 5 games at home – one more against playoff-contending San Diego and 4 against the play-the-spoiler Brewers.

St. Louis has the 4th-best home record in the NL, but with the new stadium, you never know if it's got the mystical powers to help the team power through.

I can't help but wonder if die-hard Cards fans are quite sure that ending the season at OLD Busch would have assured a division title. NEW Busch? Who knows?

Here's the Cards' fans problem: They're alone. Every other baseball fan across the country -- and you could otherwise not give a crap about the Astros -- is rooting for Houston to complete the chokery.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Next NYC Reading Series: Oct. 4

Has it been a month already? Anyway, I wanted to give NYC-based readers a heads-up to save the date for next Wednesday, October 4 for the next edition of the Varsity Letters Reading Series.

Great lineup this month, featuring:

Will Leitch, editor of Deadspin, who everyone should know and love already.

The editors of ESPN the Magazine, giving a sort of A/V presentation about images from their new book, "0:01," a collection of the back-pages of ESPN Mag.

Tom Callahan, who wrote a new biography of Johnny Unitas. If you come with a Johnny U flat-top, you get in free. Of course, everyone gets in free anyway.

If you live in NYC -- or know anyone who does -- please consider yourself invited. And tell friends and colleagues who might be interested. (Here's a special invite to Deadspin readers in NYC who want to be part of a quasi-meet-up-type night out.)

The details:

Varsity Letters Reading Series
Wednesday, October 4
Doors open: 7-7:30ish
Event starts: 8 p.m.
Happy Ending Lounge
302 Broome St.
Lower East Side
(Look for pink awning.)

And don't forget: Thursday, October 12 at 7 p.m., you can join me at the ESPN Book Club event at the Borders at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, featuring Joshua Prager, who wrote the new book "The Echoing Green," which is the definitive book about arguably the greatest moment in baseball history: The Shot Heard 'Round the World.

Last month's turnout was disappointingly modest. If you live in NYC, consider yourself personally invited!

-- D.S.

Matt Leinart Is SO Due

Let's recount the size of the chip that Matt Leinart should have on his shoulder right now:

(1) Didn't win a second Heisman.
(In fact, he wasn't even the best QB in college football last year.)

(2) Didn't win a second nat'l title.
(In fact, his team was exposed as overrated chokers.)

(3) Blew chance to be No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft.
(In fact, he dropped all the way to double-digits.)

(4) Earned national scorn with contract holdout.
(In fact, he was the last first-rounder to sign.)

(5) Skanked around with Paris Hilton.
(Slumber parties made him gossip fodder.)

(6) Future father of bastardized child.
(Coulda been worse: Coulda been Paris.)

OK, if this guy doesn't come out, guns blazing, using this chance to SHUT EVERYONE UP, he's an even bigger clod than the above-mentioned evidence suggests he is.

His karma was SO good...
Then SO bad...

So he's SO due for a huge debut as starter.

-- D.S.

On the Madden Curse

I just responded to an email from blog reader Scott C. and I thought it might be worth posting to everyone. Scott's email was confirming how crazy the Madden Curse is. (He also points out that there might be an "ESPN Mobile" curse. How is Reggie Bush's draft strategy working out?)

I was thinking about why (or how) the Madden Curse exists and what it means. It might have something to do with this:

EA tends to pick players coming off career years -- applying the ol' "regression to the mean" theory, the cover players have nowhere to go but down, including freak injuries (or other injuries that aren't so "freak").

So it stands to reason that if EA took players on the rise (rather than at the top of their game), yes, they would increase the variance their cover guy might have an off-year -- but also perhaps mitigate the chance they suffer the curse.

(And what's the risk of an "off-year" by a rising player as compared to a season-killing year by the league's biggest star nicked by the Curse?)

Anyway, I have to believe EA doesn't think the Curse is a bad thing. In fact, I strongly believe they think it's incredibly awesome. It gives them a ton more mileage out of the brand -- and keeps people talking about the game long after the game is released and does the bulk of its sales.

(For example, they get a bump when the cover athlete is named AND they get a bump when the cover athlete is inevitably hurt. This bookends the actual "Maddenoliday" release day, which is an event in and of itself.)

I think I wrote about this in the Quickie a few years ago, but it's so obvious now:

The Madden Curse has replaced the SI Jinx as the "cool" cultural milestone for the inevitability of spectacular future failure.

-- Dan

New Feature!
Asking For Your Tips

As I try to build out the daily programming for this blog, I really want to be able to showcase the best (and most interesting) of what's being posted on other sports blogs. I don't do it nearly enough and I want to do it more.

I figure it's a great afternoon feature: The timing will allow bloggers to digest the most interesting morning storylines and turn around their own commentary. There are so many sports bloggers out there who I enjoy reading.

So if you've read an interesting or intriguing blog post (or from another source online), send it to the usual:

(And if you're a blogger who is particularly proud of something you did, feel free to email, too. There is NO shame in self-promotion.)

I'm not necessarily going to post everything that gets passed along, but I'll certainly post links to the things I think would be of most interest to this blog's readers.

It's an experiment, but hopefully you agree that it's an interesting -- and worthwhileh -- one.

-- D.S.

Monday A.M. Quickie:
Saints Marching On

And the story of the year so far in the NFL is...?
The Saints.

Sorry: The 3-0 Saints.

Blocking punts for TDs.
Running trick plays for TDs.
Letting Bush rack up 72 all-purpose yards.
Green Day and Bono rocking.
70,000 fans inside the dome.

Who's going to begrudge the team (and its fans) its success this season? Who can possibly NOT cheer for this team?

The surprising start in the standings is secondary to the infusion of excitement for the community.

Twins clinch postseason: The playoff competitiveness of the small-market Twins is one of the best things about baseball.

Getting back to the playoffs is a signal to every fan out there that they can (and should) demand their team at least show flashes of competitiveness.

Now, about playoff success? Well, the Twins have the runaway AL Cy Young favorite (Johan Santana) and the player many think should be MVP (Justin Morneau). Why NOT the Twins?

What an easy team to root for.

White Sox eliminated: The first season after a World Series title (particularly one that took 88 years to earn) is the easiest one to take missing the playoffs. Join the Red Sox on the "New Drought" bandwagon.

All of a sudden, here come the Astros: Shit, where did THAT come from?

Jays pass Red Sox: I'll bet if you told the Blue Jays in April that they would finish in 2nd place in the AL East (after spending about a billion dollars in the offseason), they would take it, presuming that 2nd in the East translates into a playoff ticket.

Well, they got the "2nd" part, but there was no auto-bid to the playoffs to go with it. Still, breaking the "Yank-Sox" hegemony in the East and finishing ahead of the Red Sox is a HUGE step forward.

Bengals vs. The Law: Instead of merely suspending Odell Thurman for the rest of the season after his DUI arrest, maybe the NFL should consider another bold move:

Suspend Marvin Lewis for a game, if only for allowing his obviously troubled player to end up in this position.

And while they're at it, how about suspending Chris Henry and Reggie McNeal for riding shotgun in a car driven by a guy with a 1.8 BAC.

Personally, I think Jeremy Shockey was speaking more truth than simply venting after the Giants' loss. Maybe Tom Coughlin should pay less attention to the perceived insubordination and more to the content.

Madden Jinx: Shaun Alexander is out for at least a few weeks with a broken foot -- the video-game jinx continues... is the trouble really worth the endorsement juice from the box cover?

Simms out indefinitely: Chris Simms might be able to return as an NFL QB (say, next season), but whether he'll return as the starter for the Bucs remains to be seen.

I can see the emergence of MAC-bred rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski, but – more likely – I can see the team's 0-3 start signaling a season-long tailspin that puts them in position to draft Brady Quinn.

-- D.S.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Monday (Late) P.M.: MNF at N.O.

I've been in D.C. all day for a family event, which is why I front-loaded all of today's posts and haven't been able to update until now.

Back in business tomorrow a.m.

For now, I'd love to get your analysis and reactions to the MNF game in New Orleans right now. What do you think of the dome vibe? The coverage? The game itself?

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Monday A.M. Quickie:
We're All Saints Fans

I was so eager to get posts up last night after sitting out for the weekend that I blew my wad with all of them for you to find when you got here this morning. I know bloggers are really supposed to publish posts throughout the day to encourage readers to return over and over, but I was too excited to get to it today. Under this post, be sure to check out:

NFL Week 3 Wrap
New CFB Top 25 Ballot
CFB Saturday Wrap

On to today's Quickie:

TOP STORY: Super. Home.

The Saints' return to the Superdome is so much more important than everything BUT the actual football.

(It's also the biggest story of the sports day, and not just because it'll be getting blanket coverage.)

Sure, both the run-n-gun "run-n-run" Falcons and the heart-warming host Saints are 2-0.

But it's all about the image of the Superdome hosting a football game, rather than the scene of a year ago: Devastation.

The topic will be beaten to death over the next 24 hours, but I point back to my rally cry from early last season, for at least one night:

"We're All Saints Fans."

NFL Week 3 Wrap: Full NFL W3 wrap below, but here are a handful of half-baked observations worthy of a one-take look at the biggest NFL storylines of the day:

(1) If the Jags' offense was half as good as its D, Jacksonville would have beaten the Colts -- and be the best team in the NFL.

(2) The Bengals are the new team to beat in the AFC; the Steelers won't be making it back to the playoffs.

(3) I wasn't wrong last week to call the Pats one of the NFL's least impressive 2-0 teams; losing at home to Denver wasn't as bad as the way they did it -- listlessly.

(4) Rex Grossman's first-ever 4th-quarter TD to lead the Bears over the Vikings was more impressive (and important) than his 4 TDs in Week 2.

(5) Don't overweight Brett Favre's performance in getting the Packers' first W of '06: The Lions are a top contender for the NFL's worst team.

(6) Clinton Portis returns to reasonable strength (16 carries, 82 yards 2 TDs) and Mark Brunell is able to complete 22 passes in a row: Coincidence? I think not.

(7) Instead of blaming the crowd noise, the Giants should think about blaming their porous D. (Nice rally to make it interesting, though.)

(8) The most intriguing NFL game of 2007 just might be in the preseason, when the Seahawks and Pats meet in the NFL's first-ever game in CHINA. (8:30 a.m. ET kickoff)

(9) Realistic fantasy lineup I wish I had:
QB: Matt Hasselbeck (5 TDs)
RB: Brian Westbrook (2 TDs, 117 yds)
RB: Ladell Betts (TD, 124 yds)
WR: Javon Walker (2 TDs, 130 yds)
WR: TJ Houshmandzadeh (2 TDs, 94 yds)
Flex: Keyshawn Johnson (1 TD rec, 1 TD rush)
K: John Kasay (FGs: 51, 50, 49, 46)
D: Vikings (2 INTs, including 1 for TD)

CFB Hangover: I'm still recovering from Notre Dame's comeback win at Michigan State. Coming later: (1) Why did the ND win represent the week as a whole in CFB? And (2) Yes, but where do you rank the Irish NOW?

Meanwhile, congrats to Rutgers! I've had them in my personal Top 25 poll ranking for a week, but the AP finally ranked them this season, the first time RU has been ranked since 1976.

MLB Wrap: Hoffman Is Saves King! It's actually hard to figure out what's more impressive:

Trevor Hoffman setting the career saves record (479 – enough to be a Hall of Fame lock?)...

...Or Hoffman, at 38 years old, leading the NL in saves THIS season (43) and positioning his Padres to make the playoffs -- and to make himself the league's Cy Young winner.

Tigers Clinch Playoffs! Breathe easy, Tigers fans. No matter what happens the rest of the regular season, your team has clinched a spot in the AL playoffs.

The achievement represents the most impressive worst-to-first turnaround (albeit over three years) since the Braves went from worst to first in one year ('90 to '91).

Given where the Tigers were three years ago -- and how ultra-competitive the AL Central was supposed to be, between the defending champ White Sox, the shoulda-coulda-woulda Indians and the perennially competitive Twins 0 – it's particularly incredible.

Playoff Races: Dodgers win, but only keep pace. Padres' win keeps LAD .5 GB in NL West; Phillies' win keeps LAD .5 GB for Wild Card.

US Chokes on Ryder Cup: Who's the bigger loser -- (a) the US losing in the Ryder Cup (again) or (b) the US losing in world hoops (again)? (c) None of the above: That loser who bet $465K on the US to win the Ryder!

And a huge thanks to everyone who participated in the CFB and NFL Comment-frenzy this weekend. Terrific work. It's like you don't need me at all! (Wait, that CAN'T be good for business...)

-- D.S.

NFL Week 3 Wrap:
All Things Being Equations

For some reason, I'm feeling "math-ish" this week:

Bengals 28, Steelers 20
(Palmer's Vengeance + TJ Housh's return) – (Big Ben sucks + Steelers late turnovers) = Champs are reeling

Broncos 17, Pats 7
(Javon Walker + Pats' energy) - (Brady's career-high 55 passing attempts + Only 1 TD to show for it) = No New England playoffs revenge

Panthers 26, Bucs 24
Desperation + Keyshawn - Simms injury = 1st Cats W of '06 (and Bucs jockeying for Brady Quinn)

Bears 19, Vikings 16
Grossman jinx + Grossman clutch = Chicago as NFC's top unbeaten

Packers 31, Lions 24
Favre's 400th TD + "Fire Marinelli" = GB off schneid

Colts 21, Jags 14
(Peyton's legs + Peyton's arms) X Jags' D = Indy escapes at home

Jets 28, Bills 20
Pennington So-So x No RBs = How is this Jets team 2-1?

Dolphins 13, Titans 10
Fins' D - Daunte's protection = Time for Titans to start Vince Young

Skins 31, Texans 15
Brunell's accuracy + Portis' comeback = Al Saunders breathes easier

Ravens 15, Browns 14
Easy schedule + Cleveland ineptitude = Unbeaten surprise

Seahawks 42, Giants 30
Hasselbeck + Manning - Defense = Making the "over" the hard way

Eagles 38, 49ers 24
McNabb + Westbrook = No choking this time

Rams 16, Cards 14
Kicking + Defense – Cards' O = Grateful Rams fans

Commenters: Add your own "equation!"

-- D.S.

CFB Top 25 Ballot: Same Old?

As with last week's ballot, this is just a starting point. Make your comments/critiques below and I'll revise mid-week.

1. Ohio St
2. Auburn
3. WVA
4. USC
5. Florida
6. Michigan
7. Louisville
8. LSU
9. Texas
10. Notre Dame
11. Georgia
12. Oregon
13. VA Tech
14. TCU
15. Iowa
16. Clemson
17. Oklahoma
18. Tennessee
19. Cal
20. Rutgers
21. Nebraska
22. Florida St
23. Boise St

24. Georgia Tech
25. Washington

The most significant change: Yes, I dropped still-unbeaten Georgia from No. 7 last week to No. 11 this week. (So much for claims of SEC bias.)

This is a great example of not succumbing to that traditional pollsters (media, coach) symptom of INERTIA – moving a team up or down (or staying put) based on the previous week's poll.

Each week should be an entirely new evaluation, taking into consideration the entire body of work, revised with the latest.

(I should credit the media writers in the AP: They dropped UGA from 9 to 10. It's not as extreme as me, but at least they did SOMETHING.)

Next week's BCS impact games:
1. Ohio St at Iowa
2. Alabama at Florida
3. Oregon at Arizona St
4. Georgia Tech at VA Tech
5. Auburn at South Carolina

(OK, who's got the most appropriate "S"-word to pair alliteratively with "Saturday" to describe next week's schedule?)

Comment question: Who do I have too high? Too low? Anyone outside the Top 25 who should have made my 20-25 range?

-- D.S.

CFB Hangover: Monday Mania

How do you feel about Notre Dame's win? Was it a gritty comeback worthy of a BCS-level team? Or did it showcase a team with massive holes on D?

Given its drama (and its spot on primetime national TV), the "40" will probably eclipse the "37."

But that dovetails nicely with this week's big issue:

With all but two Top 25 teams winning, how much should HOW a team won factor into moving up or down in the rankings?

(And where it's relevant, how much should conference competition factor in? For ND purposes, I'd count Michigan St as a "conference"game.)

Can you hold it against Ohio St or USC or Michigan or Florida for needing all four quarters to beat league rivals? I don't think so (at least, not completely).

Georgia is another story: Don't let non-factor frosh QB Joe Cox's off-the-bench, 4th-quarter heroics fool you: UGA almost lost, at home, to a really bad team that has already lost (at home) to a 1-AA team.

Back to Notre Dame: I'm willing to credit the offense for delivering, but the D obviously has a LOT further to go before I'd rank the Irish ahead of the other teams in the Top 10.

Upshot: Begrudgingly, I put Notre Dame back in the Top 10. (See item above for my ballot in this week's BlogPoll Top 25.)

Revised Heisman Ballot
1. Adrian Peterson
2. Troy Smith
3A. Mario Manningham
3B. Dwayne Jarrett
3C. Calvin Johnson
4. Brady Quinn
5.* David Ball

(* - Honorary)

Comment Question: Two days later, what is the most interesting CFB analysis from the weekend that has stuck with you?

-- D.S.

NFL Week 3 Tailgate!

(ND? OMG!) It's NFL Week 3! That was awesome work yesterday with the CFB comments. Use the comments section on this post to make your pre-game, mid-game and post-game analysis throughout the NFL Week 3 schedule today. Tons of CFB and NFL from me tomorrow a.m.!