Saturday, October 28, 2006

USC Shocked at Oregon State!
BCS Turmoil!

I interrupt my sweats at having just watched Florida survive a game they were dominating against Georgia...


USC finally got caught, and it wasn't even to one of the "power" teams on their schedule. It was to middling Oregon State, who played as inspired a game as I've seen in a while, particularly that defense on the game-saving 2-point non-conversion.

The biggest implication? The BCS is officially in "turmoil" status. Here's how:

One title-game spot will go to the Ohio St-Michigan winner.

The other? Let's see:

It SHOULD be the winner of Thursday's titanic battle between Louisville and West Virginia, presuming that the winner of that game wins out.

HOWEVER, given the way the BCS poll formula seems to discount the Big East, it's not a stretch to say that the Big East champ (WVA, L'ville, Rutgers, whoever) could end the season undefeated and STILL find themselves behind a higher-ranked one-loss team from the following batch, in this order (just my opinion, as always):

(1) 1-loss SEC champ (Auburn, currently No. 4 in the BCS, would seemingly have the best shot, but they aren't even controlling their own destiny in the SEC West to make the SEC title game. Florida, 6th in the BCS, has the next-best shot, but only if they beat Auburn in the SEC title game. Then I'd say Tennessee, if Florida falters. Then Arkansas, which ironically is in the driver's seat in the SEC West. But their blowout loss to suddenly VERY iffy USC would be held against them. Convoluted? Yes. That's why let's just say "1-loss SEC champ.")

(2) 1-loss Texas (only loss to Ohio St., but from the early BCS formula results, the Longhorns will need a lot of help, and their case doesn't get better by racking up more wins in the so-so Big 12.)

(3) 1-loss Michigan/Ohio St LOSER

(4) 1-loss Pac-10 champ (USC-Cal winner, although since USC lost to lowly Oregon St and Cal lost to SEC runner-up Tennessee, this is the longest shot).

Apologies to all of the other one-loss teams out there (not to mention other unbeatens like Rutgers or Boise St). You're just too far out to have a shot.

CFB Saturday Live-Comment Tailgate

Does beating the 30-ish-point spread count as a moral victory by Northwestern over Michigan? Ah, there's still time for them to screw THAT up.

Anyway, we're getting ready for the Cocktail Party in my house, but I want to hear your comments about all the day's college football developments right here.

Have at it!

Saturday A.M. Quickie:
Cards Win! Cards Win!

Yesterday, I echoed another guy who said if the Cards won they would be the "Most Improbable World Series Champs Ever."

You know I love a good superlative, so use the Comments section to suggest your own superlative to describe these 2006 World Champ St. Louis Cardinals.

Looking back a mere month ago -- when they were on the brink of the worst regular-season choke in baseball history -- it's absolutely incredible.

And, once again, it shows how much the "experts" know. Zilch.

Friday, October 27, 2006

NFL Week 8 Preview and Picks

Broncos over Colts: Game of the Week! My gut reaction was to take Indy, but the game's in Denver and the Colts are due for their first L.

Bears over 49ers: There will be no need for any sort of Monday Night Miracle.

Bengals over Falcons: If Chad Johnson -- sorry "Ocho Cinco" (his insistence) -- isn't entertaining in the end-zone, maybe he'll just put his post-win head-shaving on YouTube.

Cardinals over Packers: Would Packers fans trade their entire roster, straight up (Favre included) for the entire Cards roster? I would.

Titans over Texans: If I had to choose between Mario Williams and Vince Young to have a rookie break-out week, I'm picking DeMeco Ryans.

Chiefs over Seahawks: Seneca Wallace vs. Brodie Croyle is the most intriguing QB MATCHUP OF THE YEAR. No, seriously, who is playing QB?

Saints over Ravens: Call this the "Legitimacy Bowl," where the winner can actually be put in the column under "playoff contenders."

Giants over Bucs: Have you heard about these Barber twins? I guess you wouldn't have; they're NEVER featured on TV or anything.

Eagles over Jaguars: My Jags are 0-3 on the road and have a QB controversy brewing that won't be fixed, even with a Garrard-led loss.

Chargers over Rams: Considering the oblivion he's facing, think Shawne Merriman will lead the San Diego D with a bit of urgency?

Jets over Browns: Who had the Jets at 5-3 at the season's halfway point? That should qualify Mangini for AFC Midseason Coach of the Year.

Steelers over Raiders: Why would Pittsburgh risk further head injury to Big Ben by playing him against a shoddy opponent like Oakland?

Panthers over Cowboys: Carolina's D will confuse Tony Romo enough that the new controversy is Jerry Jones vs. Bill Parcells over QBs.

Pats over Vikings (MNF): I'm trying to guess which celebrities will visit the TV booth. Maybe Prince? How about Bat-Girl or Aaron Gleeman?

Comment Question: Leave your pithy one-liner about the games you find most (or least) intriguing.

Last Week: 3-10 (Worst Week YET!)
Season: 57-43 (Good grief...)

CFB Weekend Preview:
Ain't No Party Like a Cocktail Party...

The more I think about it, the more I think that school administrators thinking that trying to keep people from saying "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" as a way to keep students from drinking is the STUPIDEST idea of the year in college football, if not all of sports.

Some students will drink to excess, whether you dubbed it "Cocktail Party" or "Wholesome Teetotaling." The only thing this has accomplished is getting students – and alumni – fired up, mostly fighting to MAINTAIN the name, plus drawing the scorn of most media and fans everywhere, most of whom just want to see what happens when a bunch of rednecks and crackers get liquored. (And I hope you know the difference between the two!)

If anything, you get the sense that folks out at the game (and back on campus) will drink MORE, just to spite the stuffy prudes running the show. And THEN what'll the administrators have? Here's a hint: They should call the history department and ask for a refresher course on Prohibition Era America.

With that out of the way, let's get into this week's Top 25 schedule:

1 Ohio St over Minnesota
2 Michigan over Northwestern
3 USC over at Oregon St.
5 Texas over at Texas Tech
7 Auburn over at Mississippi
8 Tennessee over at South Carolina (TRAP!)
9 Florida over Georgia
11 Notre Dame over at Navy
13 Arkansas over LA-Monroe
16 Rutgers over UConn (Sun.)
17 Wisconsin over Illinois
18 BC over Buffalo
23 Missouri over 19 Oklahoma (Upset-ish!)
20 Nebraska over at OK St.
21 GA Tech over Miami
22 Texas A&M over Baylor
24 Wake Forest over UNC
25 Oregon over Portland St.

Why the Cards Will Make Great Champs

Friday A.M. Quickie found here.

You all know I'm always out on the look-out for impressive sports superlatives. I found one in a Slate column about the Cards:

"The most improbable World Champions of all time." That's what Larry Borowsky of the Viva El Birdos blog wrote. And he's not wrong.

Am I premature to declare one of my "It's Over!" moments about the 2006 World Series? I don't think so.

The Cards are up 3-1 with a game left to play in St. Louis (and they couldn't look hotter) and the Tigers need to win 3 straight (and they couldn't look more disjointed).

David Eckstein earned the inside track to World Series MVP status with his wild, 4-hit performance last night, including the game-winning RBI. (But I refuse to reduce myself to lazy symbolism that the – ugh – "scrappy" Eckstein is a symbol of this Cards team. Isn't he a lock to win that "Whitest White Player in White Baseball" Award from yesterday?)

Back to "most improbable": Heading into the 2006 playoffs, there wasn't a less impressive team in baseball. Cripes, one month ago, the Cards were on the verge of the worst collapse in baseball history -- MISSING the playoffs, let alone winning them.

As Borowsky points out (as did Will Leitch in his New York Times op-ed piece during the NLCS), these playoffs – more than any other – illustrate the role of chance, momentum and the fleetingly hot hand in baseball – things that a 162-game season is supposed to flatten out.

That's why I've come around on these Cards, as they sit poised to win the World Series. I have disliked them throughout the regular season and playoffs. I was rooting for the Tigers (and even predicted a Detroit sweep). I was even beginning to sympathize with those cranks who were calling this World Series a crappy one. (The TV ratings have been worst-ever.)

But I was wrong. And those critics are wrong, ignorantly superficial at best and unjustifiably provincial at worst. (I should know because I was one of them.)

The Cards ARE delightfully, fascinatingly "improbable."

And this series has become an affirmation that baseball's postseason has been great throughout this decade – no more so than right now – precisely because of the way it continually produces improbability.

If part of baseball's charm is that 162 games creates "statistical significance" to draw huge data-rich conclusions about what we think is reality, the playoffs – and this Cards World Series run in particular – shows the value of "statistical insignificance."

-- D.S.

Friday A.M. Quickie:
Cards on Brink, Clemson Not

The Cards are going to win the World Series. David Eckstein is the hero and likely MVP. The Tigers' magic has all but evaporated. The Cards get one shot tonight to win a World Series at home and have all the momentum in the world. Here's my take on the state of the World Series.

Jerry Jones is unhappy with the Cowboys QB situation. His point seems to be that going with Romo is an indicator that the team is struggling, but isn't the best move for a would-be competitive team to use the best QB possible? In this case, benching Bledsoe isn't a sign of surrender; it's the last attempt to salvage an otherwise disappointing season.

Quick! Name the Chiefs starting QB this weekend? Trent Green? Nope. Damon Huard? Wrong again! (He was injured in practice yesterday.) It'll be rookie Brodie Croyle, who starred for Alabama last season. Welcome to the NFL, kid. He'll be eating Seahawks sandwiches all day.

Florida opens college hoops season at No. 1 in coaches' Top 25, earning 30 out of 31 first-place votes. (So who was the ass-hat who voted Ohio St. at No. 1?) As I've argued before, you have to be a complete fool (or contrarian for contrarian's sake) to not pick the Gators as your top-ranked preseason team. UNC and Kansas are 2nd and 3rd, with OSU at No. 4 and Pitt/UCLA tied at No. 5.

Bruce Bochy is jumping from the Padres to the Giants. In San Diego, he got to win in relative obscurity, nationally. In San Francisco, he'll be in the eye of the Bonds shitstorm throughout next season. Enjoy!

Promising Hawks sophomore forward Marvin Williams' breakthrough season will have to wait: He's out up to 8 weeks with a broken wrist. Uh, so don't draft him high in Fantasy.

Clemson gets shellacked: It has to make my "Top 5 Jinxes Ever" list that mere hours after I bump Clemson over the "SEC Three" in my CFB Top 25 this week, they get absolutely crushed at VA Tech. This year's ACC is the Big East from a few years ago: Tell me again why they deserve a guaranteed BCS spot?

(Perhaps only matched by my jinx on Sonics center Robert Swift, who I was lauding earlier this week as being a successful prep-to-pro. He's out for the season with a knee injury.)

And, in the nastiest story of the day, a Cowboys assistant coach is suing McDonald's because his family's au pere found a rat in her take-out salad. Enjoy your next meal!

-- D.S.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Uh, About That World Series Rain-Out...

OK, so I was wrong. Between me and the weatherpeople, that makes two of us. I'm just glad there's a game on...

NBA 06-07 Preview:
What Others Are Saying

Kudos to my former colleague Royce Webb who is a mastermind behind's NBA coverage. This season's team-by-team previews are the site's best ever (yes, I say that even though I will get no chance this season to offer my "expert" analysis.)

In a way any good Quickie fan (or writer) will appreciate, it's a lot of quick-hit material, with the best part being a box of analysis from each team's leading blogger. (The best offering, by far, is from Wizznutzz. It makes the other expert analysis on the Wizards seem quite uninspired.)

If I WAS going to be included, I sure as hell wouldn't have picked the Cavs to win the East, even though they seem to be the trendy pick. (They'll be good, but winning the East? Sorry.) You can check out the Cavs preview here, then use the drop-down menu at the top of each page to check out other teams.

(If you do check it out, I also encourage you to check out the bloggers' coverage, which you can get to directly from their offering on each preview page.)

Nice job, Royce and Co.

NFL Power Rankings

As always, submitted without further comment:

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

Comment Question: What do your Top 10 (and bottom 10) look like?

This Week's CFB Top 25 Ballot

So last weekend I went down to South Beach to help my brother celebrate his pending nuptials with a bachelor party. It was an extravagant weekend: Shore Club, Nobu, Prime 112 and -- for the first (and possibly last) time in my life, some late-night clubbing.

(You have to understand that since the kid was born, I'm passed out at 10-ish, unless there's a late-ending major sports event on TV. And that's on the weekends. So you can imagine that the ol' wee-hours club life was a, um, unique experience for me. It was my first -- and likely my last -- experience with table service, the economics of which are fascinating.)

I'm usually not a "star-sighting!" person, but there were two sports-related star-sightings that I wanted to pass along: First, at Nobu on Friday night, word spread through my party as we left the restaurant that A-Rod was there. So, naturally, I turned to gawk -- but only for a second. That was all I needed: The guy was HUGE. He is jacked. You can't tell when he's in uniform on TV. But in regular clothes sitting at a normal person's dinner table? He's massive.

On Saturday night, we went to this steakhouse Prime 112. It took forever to get seated, but the delay did give me the chance to see Drew Rosenhaus walk in with an unidentified player. Unlike A-Rod, Rosenhaus looks EXACTLY like he does on TV. He must go there a lot, because he was treated quite nicely (though I have to say, he didn't get seated before we did; it was refreshing to see him have to actually WAIT for a table. I figured guys like him skip to the front of the line.)

What is my point here? Uh, I don't really have one, except to say that normally, I'd post my weekly CFB Top 25 on Monday (or, at the latest, Tuesday), but I apparently was so out of sorts after the big weekend that I neglected to do it. So here it is, and -- as usual -- I welcome your disparaging reactions:

1. Ohio St

2. Michigan
3. WVA
4. USC
5. Louisville
6. Texas
7. Clemson*
8. Arkansas*
9. Auburn*
10. Florida*

11. Notre Dame
12. Tennessee
13. Rutgers
14. LSU
15. Wisconsin
16. Cal
17. Boise St.
18. Nebraska
19. B.C.
20. Texas A&M
21. Missouri
22. Oklahoma
23. Georgia Tech
24. Oregon
25. Tulsa

* - Thanks to reader R.D., who sent me an email making a persuasive case that my Florida bias had gotten a little out of control here. The upshot: I have always preached you have to rank based on the "body of evidence," not projection. My feeling that Florida would beat Auburn on a neutral field shouldn't play into where I rank them THIS week, given that Florida lost to Auburn head-to-head and haven't played since, to give me any evidence they should be ranked higher. (BTW, jumping Clemson over the entire trio of SEC teams is a further nod to that reality.)

Why Jim Tressel Will NEVER Leave Ohio St

Jim Tressel to NFL? No Way. Ohio St fans can stop freaking out; there's no way that Tressel goes to the NFL (even the Browns).

It's one of those rumors that floats out there because it SEEMS to fit, not that it has any basis in reality. I've floated a few of those in my time, but never as ACTUAL rumor -- merely Idle Speculation. Come on, folks: There's a glorious difference!

Some college football coaches would make great NFL coaches. Um, yeah, I can think of one off the top of my head: Charlie Weis. Otherwise, I think that the things that make for a great college coach -- say, ABSOLUTE CONTROL -- aren't really available in the NFL.

Given his previous NFL experience (an absolute prerequisite), Nick Saban was as well-prepared as any college coach to make the jump, and look at him now. He's among the NFL's biggest control freaks and has 1 win to show for it in '06.

So I offer up a list of one: Weis. (And he is an NFL coach who happens to be spending a few seasons in college football. Sorry, ND fans.)

Jim Tressel? Pete Carroll? Urban Meyer? All of CFB's elite coaches make too much money -- and, again, have too much unrivaled power -- to feel the need to prove themselves in the NFL, where the money bump ain't that great -- and the power decline is immense. Just ask Carroll about his NFL experience.

(It's funny: Even in college hoops, there are few coaches who I'd say are suited for a jump to the NBA. I always find it strange that Tubby Smith is considered NBA material; that guy is an A-list screamer. Can you imagine him doing that to pros? Even guys like Coach K or Tom Izzo are WAY too control-freaky, cult-of-me to succeed. If he wins a second straight national title, I'd say Billy Donovan would get a shot at coaching the Knicks -- as soon as Dolan fired Isiah -- but one of Donovan's true strengths -- recruiting -- would be wasted at the pro level.)

Commenters: Which college football coaches, besides Charlie Weis, would you say are best-suited to jump to the NFL?

Matt Leinart is a Baby-Daddy!

Congratulations to Matt Leinart and his... um... friend (what WOULD you call her?) Brynn Cameron on the birth of a son, Cole Cameron Leinart (6 lbs, 7 oz), who presumably already has a scholarship offer from USC.

I like the name "Cole," but -- as a recently minted expert in baby names -- I'm not sure that it works having the "L" sound end the first name and start the last name. But I'm quibbling on a otherwise happy day for Matt "Do-The-Right-Thing" Leinart and his new family. New fatherhood -- new parenthood, period -- is utterly amazing.

Let's hope that one of the key lessons that father will teach son is how to use contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies. (Not that I'm suggesting that Cole was an unwanted pregnancy. I'm just sayin'...)

Tiki Barber Hates Michael Irvin

I'll simply quote Tiki from his Sirius radio show here:

"I will call them 'idiots' because they have neither spoken to me nor any one of my teammates or any of my coaches, yet all they do is criticize me for being a distraction with this retirement thing."

And, awesomely, he names names, which is ALWAYS so much better:

"That includes [Daily News columnist] Gary Myers, that includes Tom Jackson on ESPN, that includes the ultimate character guy, facetiously speaking, of course, Michael Irvin [of ESPN], please get a clue how to be a journalist. Don't make blanket assumptions about it."

The biggest mistake Tiki makes is that he thinks that Irvin or Jackson (or even the columnist) are actually "journalists." They're not. They're analysts and commentators. And there's a HUGE difference.

Thursday A.M. Quickie:
World Series Rain-Out Woes and More

Baseball playoff series that have a rain-out are sort of fascinating: Pitching calibrations change, and the travel day between shifting the series from one city to the other evaporates, triggering a day-in-day-out drama of consecutive games.

Two rain-outs, on the other hand, are just lame.

With last night's rain-out -- and tonight's expected encore performance -- not only haven't we had baseball since Tuesday night (with the earliest resumption being Friday), but a potential Game 7 would extend into next week, rather than be neatly wrapped up this weekend.

(What is this, the NBA Finals? The biggest gripe about the NBA's championship series -- and, arguably, the biggest strategic mistake by the usually strategically brilliant David Stern and Co. -- is the interminable delay between games. The argument has always been: If MLB can play a 7-game series into 9 days, why does it take the NBA seemingly interminable weeks to do the same thing? But I digress...)

One World Series rain-out ratchets up the drama and triggers an addictive, "no-nights-off" momentum.

TWO World Series rain-outs, on the other hand, and soon most casual fans are going to forget there's a Series going on.

More notes for today:

Matt Leinart is a "Baby-Daddy!"

Tony Romo to start at QB for the Cowboys: Does that make him Jeff Hostetler to Drew Bledsoe's Phil Simms? I'd like to hear Simms weigh in on what it's like to have Bill Parcells stop paying attention to you.

Tiki Barber hates Michael Irvin!

Big Ben to start Sunday? It looks like Big Ben is going to play this weekend, and I'm feeling deja vu: Haven't I been through this argument before with the Steelers and their fans about putting Ben's long-term future at risk for some suspicious short-term gain?

QB controversy in Jacksonville? David Garrard is splitting snaps with Byron Leftwich to run the Jags' first-team offense. I know Del Rio is just hedging his bets, in case Leftwich's chronic case of "gimpy" flares up, but the coach doesn't seem to be tamping down the controversy angle.

Stop the presses 1: Derek Jeter doesn't give a rat's ass about A-Rod. Not that the Captain loathes A-Rod or anything. He just doesn't feel the need to analyze him for the media, though Jeter did insist that everything is okey-dokey in the Yankees locker room. Yeah, sure.

Is Orel Hershiser going to be the next A's manager? I guess Oakland figures that the guy who helped beat them in the World Series in 1988 is the best-equipped to lead them to the World Series in 2007.

Stop the presses 2: David Stern doesn't want NBA players to carry around guns. Yes, but how does he feel about players who use intermediaries to exact their own vigilante justice on C-list rappers after being mugged outside of Diddy's restaurant?

NBA Preseason: The Raptors are 7-0. I know that preseason records aren't supposed to mean much, but I think Toronto will shock everyone and make the East playoffs this season. (In the West, count me on the Warriors bandwagon; Don Nelson will win Coach of the Year.)

CFB Tonight: Clemson at VA Tech. Doubters! Here's your chance to watch the highest-scoring offense in the country (and the last remaining hope of respectability for the ACC on a national stage) play in one of the more hostile stadiums in the country (even if the Hokies are down this year). Players to watch? The Tigers' 2-headed RB tandem of James Davis and CJ Spiller, the best RB combo in college football.

Coming later this morning: Why Jim Tressel will never leave Ohio St.

Finally, I'm wondering if any of you have new ideas for what to call the Florida-Georgia game, now that the SEC and school presidents don't want anyone to call it the (amazing) "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." It's become the hot game among CFB fans.

(This effort to tame the name, by the way, is so ludicrous. Ironically, it's a lot like Prohibition: You can attempt to play down the alcohol, but the people won't stand for it. In Prohibition's case, the rules were repealed; in the TWLOCP's case, fans will still call it what they want to call it and mock efforts to do otherwise.)

-- D.S.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Gilbert Arenas + Free Darko:
My Afternoon Is Made

My favorite NBA philosopher (Bethlehem Shoals of Free Darko) writing about my favorite NBA player (Gilbert Arenas) on my favorite Web destination (Deadspin). It's an amazing day.

The Worst Marketing Campaign Ever

You all know I love me some marketing gimmicks. When they're clever, I'm among the first to point out their greatness. And when they're horrible...

Well, this might qualify: It's the Look Again Player of the Year Award, presented by Holiday Inn (and apparently sanctioned by MLB), to reward the role player who sacrifices for his team.

Here's the problem: All but two of the contenders (one per team) are white, which plays into every implicitly bigoted reference that "scrappy" is uniquely white.

There's enough of this shit in lazy sportswriting. You know: "Scrappy" vs. "Gifted." "Hustle" vs. "Athleticism." The old reliable "Articulate."

This was such an awesome opportunity for MLB to make a positive statement: That role players who sacrifice for their team can be white, Latino, black, Asian, whatever. I'm not saying there had to be racial quotas, but the current list shows the lazy analysis at its worst.

Thank god there are two blogs out there to call them on this complete waste of everyone's time, and I point you to FireJoeMorgan and Deadspin for their commentary on it.

This award demands some sort of parody in response, if not cancellation. Hmm...

-- D.S.

Stem-Cell Ad Battle Reaches World Series

This stem-cell ad debate is turning into the politics-culture-sports nexus story of the moment:

You may have seen the Michael J. Fox ad promoting a pro-stem-cell research amendment in Missouri. It's only been viewed on YouTube, like, a million times.

(Rush Limbaugh did more harm for his cause than good by calling attention to it by ripping Fox as, um, faking or playing up his Parkinson's. Let me disclose now that my paternal grandfather died of complications related to Parkinson's, so I am more than sympathetic to Parkinson's research in all of its forms.)

You also might have seen the rebuttal ad against stem-cell research, which features Cardinals World Series Game 4 starter Jeff Suppan, Kurt Warner, Mike Sweeney and Ray Romano's TV wife.

I've just read that the ad's proponents have bought time for it to be shown during the World Series game tonight. The same game that the ad's star -- Jeff Suppan -- will be pitching in. I suppose the only thing left to wonder is if he'll put on a wristband that says "SAY NO TO STEM CELL RESEARCH." And just imagine if he gets the W and is corralled for a post-game interview.

I wonder how many Missouri voters (who are presumably mostly Cards fans) will base their vote on Suppan's performance: Gem? Vote with him! Shelled? Vote against him!

Anyway, it's always interesting -- not to mention pretty rare -- when politics and culture and sports get thrown together like this. Gotta love the election-year home stretch.

-- D.S.

Wednesday A.M. Quckie:
*What* Kenny Rogers Scandal?

The Kenny Rogers "Sc-hand-al" is a distant memory this morning. What changed? Two signature pitching performances in Game 3:

(1) Chris Carpenter: He looked like the reigning Cy Young winner, giving up only 3 H (and 0 ER) in 8 IP. Things could fall apart for the Cards over the next three games and they would STILL know he'd be available for Game 7.

(2) Joel Zumaya: He went from ALDS sensation to World Series goat. His godawful 7th inning, giving up 2 walks, both of whom scored when he botched a sure double-play by firing an error past Inge, extended the Tigers' hole from 2-0 to 4-0.

All of a sudden, the Tigers are in an unfamiliar position: Down 2-1 heading into tonight's Game 4 (Suppan vs. Bonderman), doubling their loss total over their entire AL playoff run.

Obviously, the Tigers have proven they can rip off multiple wins in a row, but a loss tonight puts them in a do-or-die situation for the remaining three games. That's a lot of pressure for a team this moody.

The only way to turn this series around is to hit the NLCS Game 7 hero -- hard. (Have you seen that Missouri attack ad against stem-cell research? Will has it here. Suppan needs to stick to pitching and less to politicking. Same goes for Kurt Warner and Mike Sweeney and Ray Romano's TV wife.)

New MLB Labor Deal: Baseball popularity might only be 33 percent with Americans, but the foundation for ANY sport's popularity is actually presenting a product, which is why the extension of labor peace is arguably the most important (if unsexy) news in any sport's calendar – particularly baseball.

Big Ben questionable for Sunday: Really, if he can't play, he can't play. It's not like the Steelers have a padded lead surging toward the playoffs, so his presence would help – especially considering his past two games – but you can argue that a full-strength Charlie Batch is better than a dazed and confused Big Ben, at risk for even MORE damage.

The NFL's first "flex" game, moved from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night, will be the Bears and Giants – a no-brainer, but also the game that NFL execs had scheduled in the primetime spot anyway. Still waiting for real intrigue.

Speaking of NFL scheduling, the league approved a plan to play up to 2 regular season games outside of the U.S.

My original thought was that no team would want to risk pissing off its fans by eliminating 1/8 of the home games.

The NFL seems to want to allay concerns: Teams that relocate a home game will get a home game the week before and a bye week the week after; get a guaranteed fee the size of an average home game's revenue; and won't have to play a division game abroad unless both teams agree.

The globalization of the NFL is an inevitability; fans might as well embrace it. (Most fans of a given team don't go to the games anyway, and imagine the expanded fan base when a foreign city adopts the team.)

UPDATE (11 a.m.): There's a great seed of a thread in the Comments section that I want to encourage you to build on: Match up the international location with the most appropriate NFL team. Someone already pointed out playing a Bills game in Toronto. Add to it!

Feel proud, sports fans: You've finally helped to displace the 1993 NAFTA debate between Gore and Perot as the most-watched cable-TV show of all time.

The new champ? Monday Night Football's Cowboys-Giants game, which earned an 11.8 rating, smashing the old record (11.2). ESPN has had unbelievable fortune with match-ups so far, but I have to believe that the full-court-press approach to promotion helps.

I've always considered college football "strength coaches" to be a little on the sketchy side as it is -- do they get their degrees in phys ed or pharmacology? – and the news about the LSU assistant strength coach being busted for routing players toward an agent provides real fodder, rather than just my speculation.

"Deputy Shaq" could end up on a bloopers episode of "Cops": He was reportedly involved in a bungled child-porn bust. Hope he wants to keep his day job.

Sonics sale approved to Oklahoma businessman and his investors. He continues to protest – a little TOO much – that he wants to keep the team in Seattle. Yeah, right. As soon as the Hornets return to New Orleans full-time, it's "OKC Sonics."

(Speaking of the Sonics, they named Robert Swift their opening-night center. Add him to the absurdly long list of players who made a successful jump straight from high school to the pros.)

Don't hold your breath for football's return to L.A.: A new stadium will cost up to $1 billion – and that will apparently be all on the ownership group to finance.

It's gotta be the shoes? Stephon Marbury sat out of last night's Knicks game (another win!) with heel inflammation. Could it be because of his $15 shoes? (Nah: Other players in more expensive kicks hurt their feet.)

No "Cocktail Party?" SEC execs can pressure TV partners to not call the Florida-Georgia game "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," but don't expect fans to follow; it's only the greatest nickname for an annual sports event.

Finally, I would point all of you to this as a must-must-read. (Yes, precisely because it pivots off of one of my favorite old Quickie columns.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NBA Preview, Part 1:
No, You tell ME

Let's ramp up the 2006-07 NBA Preview!

In a way both to pay homage to my readers and to tap the collective wisdom, I'm flip-flopping my NBA preview. Instead of saying what I think, then letting you all say what you think, I'm going the other way: Use the Comments area to provide insights in any/all of the following categories, then I'll weigh in throughout the rest of the week:

(1) MVP
(2) Coach of the Year
(3) Team on the Rise
(4) Team on the Decline
(5) Breakout Player (The "Diaw Award")
(6) Rookie to Watch (not necessarily "best")
(7) Storyline We'll Be Talking About in January
(8) Western Playoff Seeding/Conf. Champs (Who over who?)
(9) Eastern Playoff Seeding/Conf. Champs (Who over who?)
(10) NBA Champs

Please use the number/category to help everyone else understand your comments. And a little reasoning/"why" never hurts. Looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

-- D.S.

DirtGate, Day 2:
La Russa as REAL Bad Guy?

(Tuesday A.M. Quickie below.)

Who else finds it fascinating
that the focus of Kenny Rogers' alleged-presumed-assumed cheating has shifted in the last 24 hours from the offending pitcher to the offensive manager -- of the opposing team?

Let's review:

On Sunday, Tony LaRussa downplayed the whole thing. I don't think he imagined the shitstorm that would hit yesterday morning -- and how his downplaying of it would circle back to bite him in the ass.

LaRussa's attempt to tamp it down totally underestimated the more dominant power of media: Photos allowed fans everywhere to draw their OWN conclusions – and LaRussa's claims didn't pass a basic smell test. You didn't have to be a "genius" baseball manager to see with your own eyes that it LOOKED like Rogers was cheating -- and had over the course of the playoffs. It eroded LaRussa's credibility with fans and media and set the stage for the story's evolution:

By Monday afternoon, Tony LaRussa was backtracking furiously: "I don't believe it was dirt."

Well, now he's in even MORE trouble. Because, if THAT's the case, it's more than reasonable for fans and critics to ask why the hell didn't he push the issue at the time?!

Cards hitting coach Hal McRae was more blunt:

"It was so blatant," he told USA Today. "What was so strange about it was how obvious it was, in the World Series. It's a shame a guy would cheat in a World Series game. It hurts the integrity of the game."

Well, Hal, if it was "so blatant," why didn't you push your boss to do something about it? How about taking a little responsibility?

And that's the fascinating upshot of the new twist to the story:

It's arguable that the bigger scandal was LaRussa's inaction – either out of some loyalty to buddy Jim Leyland or something else he has yet to explain sufficiently.

How about that? The guy who was cheating isn't the worst offender in this story; in fact, he (and his defenders) can simply point to the 2nd through 8th innings, when he pitched a shutout with clean hands.

Meanwhile, those same innings are a damning indictment of LaRussa's decision-making:

If LaRussa had done the right thing -- the competitively honorable thing -- he would have challenged Rogers in the 1st and maybe Rogers never would have even had the CHANCE to pitch innings 2 through 8.

It was not on Rogers to 'fess up to cheating (and, by the way, unlike LaRussa's flip-flop, Rogers still contends he didn't cheat -- and the umps' call that it was dirt still backs Rogers up, which really should be the ultimate word on Rogers' culpability).

It was squarely on LaRussa to challenge Rogers on it. So until he can provide a reasonable explanation for why -- if he believed it wasn't dirt -- he didn't challenge the pitcher, LaRussa is the bigger asshole in this story.

For now, it's so interesting to watch this story pivot:

From Rogers' purported cheating to LaRussa's unquestionably damning inaction, which – I'm ready to argue – is worse than cheating: At best, it's negligence in the most important moment of his team's season; at worst, it's tanking for an old buddy sitting in the dugout across the field.

Stop worrying about whether Rogers was using pine tar or another substance -- and jump on the bandwagon of asking WHY LaRussa didn't challenge him?

Because if Cards fans are looking for someone to blame, they can start with their own manager.

-- D.S.

Tuesday A.M. Quickie:
Cowboys' QB Controversy
Do You Like Romo or Bledsoe?

Cowboys QB controversy: Bill Parcells was obviously sick of Drew Bledsoe, so he went to Tony Romo, and I think that's where he'll stay.

Romo played the entire second half and finished with 227 yards (14/25), with 2 TDs to go with 3 INTs and 2 sacks. In the first half, Bledsoe had 111 yards (7/12) with 4 sacks and 1 INT (the one that presumably got him benched).

Who would you play? Considering that this was Romo's first real sustained game action of his entire career, he obviously flashed enough upside to warrant more starts.

That Bledsoe was basically benched for an INT that happened because he didn't throw to T.O. -- and that one of Romo's TDs actually went to T.O. -- I think is symbolism for Parcells' short-term decision-making.

LaVar Arrington out for season: Perhaps karmic payback for the griping and moaning he did last season with the Redskins?

Matt Hasselbeck out 3 weeks with that knee injury: And the post-Super Bowl jinx continues for the Seahawks...

Shawne Merriman will appeal his 4-game steroids suspension. Good luck with that.

Dennis Green's job coaching the Cardinals is safe... for now. Sounds like the team execs are tired of "woulda, coulda, shoulda."

Joe Girardi pulls out as a candidate for the Nats managerial job. Is he going back to the Yankees to work under Torre for a year before taking THAT job?

New NBA ball is here to stay: So says David Stern. Some might compare this to last year's dress-code controversy (which turned out to be a non-issue after preseason yapping similar to the new ball), but here's how it's different: The new ball actually could hurt game play. If that happens – and it markedly affects his product – Stern might U-turn.

Crazy NorCol punter surrenders: Would make a wild "ripped-from-the-headlines" story on "Law and Order": Could a jury convict this guy for attempted MURDER?

Remind me not to pull a gun on my kid's youth-league coach when he isn't getting enough playing time. Cripes: What a nutbag.

Finally, I'd say one of the more interesting non-traditional opinion columns you'll find is from Pat Tillman's brother, Kevin, which has gone fully mainstream in the last 24 hours.

I'm curious how unwavering supporters of this administration who double as the same football fans who respect Pat Tillman feel about the contradiction. Here's the link.

-- D.S.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Last Thought on Kenny Rogers

Here's what I'm struck by: If, in fact, Kenny Rogers was cheating by using some illegal substance on his hand in the 1st inning, then you also have to be willing to accept a virtual conspiracy of cheating.

If you are willing to question Rogers' integrity, you must necessarily also question the integrity of:

Tony LaRussa: Who neither pushed the issue at the time nor after the game.

(The fact that people are bringing up LaRussa's friendship with Leyland as the only logical explanation he might go soft in a World Series game instead of asking umps to check Rogers would, if Rogers WAS cheating, qualify LaRussa as a far more devious and devastating corrupter of the game of baseball than Rogers himself. It's bad enough that at the time, LaRussa didn't even QUESTION the APPEARANCE of a problem, which would have -- at the very least -- perhaps gotten into Rogers' head in a perfectly fair piece of gamesmanship.)

The umps: Who didn't push the issue (beyond reportedly -- or not -- asking Rogers to clean off his hand), and who would have had to willfully ignore or avoid their moral responsibility to do just that, whether asked by the Cards to do it or not.

Jim Leyland: Who would HAVE to have known about it, particularly if it happened over multiple games. Again, if he willfully participated – even by looking the other way – it is as if he himself was cheating.

Rogers' Tigers teammates: For willfully going along with it. They couldn't NOT have known, particularly team "leader" Ivan Rodriguez.

Rogers' Cards opponents: For not being more vocal about it, either at the time or after the game. You'd think that if they were at a disadvantage because of cheating, they'd speak up a little more fervently.

(It seems like the only people pushing the issue are analysts in the media, who are the LEAST likely to actually know what happened.)

What does this analysis indicate to me? That Rogers WASN'T cheating, that he COULDN'T have been cheating -- because the 360-degree conspiracy of culpability SURROUNDING him would be so staggering.

On the other hand, there are FAR smarter thinkers than me -- or most people you'll find in mainstream media: Like Baseball Prospectus' Nate Silver, who has the most reasonable analysis to argue that cheating MIGHT be happening. And, naturally, he takes the time to actually use some numbers to back up his analysis, rather than the qualitative b.s. you'll see from me and every other "columnist" out there. Here's the must-read link.

-- D.S.

NFL Week 7 Post-Script

With a day to think about it...

Matt Bryant's 62-yard kick was more impressive than previous 63-yarders. First, because he didn't kick with a performance-enhancing plate in his shoe, and second, because there was no way anyone saw TB beating Philly. I recognize those reasons are fairly flimsy. So the real reason I'm a fan is because it happened yesterday and anything that happens today is better than things that happened decades ago, right? Of course.

(Lawrence Tynes and Morten Andersen weren't kicking slouches, either.)

We'll all look back and realize that yesterday represented Michael Vick's biggest breakthrough game.

We'll all look back and realize that Ben Roethlisberger's career never got better than his second season. It just got much worse.

(And what a Super Bowl jinx for Matt Hasselbeck, too.)

So much for my attempt to be ahead of the curve in proclaiming the Panthers as the NFL's No. 2 team. I'm going to have to give this week's title to the Pats, almost by default. (The Colts? Save it.)

Leon Washington and Wali Lundy are just the latest examples of how the NFL Draft is a wildly inexact science.

The Texans might not crack your weekly rankings Top 20 just yet, but if you had to invest in a team's success over the next decade, I'll bet they would.

It wasn't Joey Harrington being Joey Harrington that cost the Dolphins the game; it was Harrington doing his best Favre impression that cost the Dolphins the game.

The Redskins' season is as good as over. Al Saunders was arguably Dan Snyder's biggest bust signing yet. Oh, and bench Mark Brunell.

It's time for the Broncos to start Jay Cutler.

Will critics demand we put an asterisk next to Shawne Merriman's "NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year" award?

Be honest: Who had the Jets at 4 wins... overall, let alone 4 wins by Week 7?

I wasn't one of those knee-jerk critics who thought Dennis Green should be fired after the Cards' MNF debacle. Losing to the lowly Raiders, however, is another story: That's a fireable offense; he's obviously lost this team.

MNF Preview: If Tony K. can't have the game of his season with T.O., Parcells and a huge intradivision matchup, maybe he SHOULD retire after this season.

Comments Question: What are your one-line thoughts about the NFL Week That Was?

-- D.S.

Donovan McNabb's YouTube Moment

"YouTube Moments" are the new "15 minutes of fame." Lamar Thomas enjoyed his a week ago (along with Miami's football team, obvs).

Now, it's Donovan McNabb's turn.

Here's the video of him puking at the line of scrimmage from yesterday.*

(By the way, this backs up all the suspicion/rumor that he yakked during the Super Bowl. And he lost that game, too.)

* - Given that this is clearly swiped right off of a copyrighted broadcast, I'm curious to see how long it stays active, given YouTube/Google's sudden new focus on copyright protection.

World Series: Sc-hand-al!
Was Kenny Rogers Cheating?

Monday A.M. Quickie below.

(Or click on link above.)

Did Kenny Rogers have an illegal substance on his hand in the 1st inning -- or was it just dirt, like he claims?

Or is the REAL dirt simply the sensationalistic suspicions being thrown around by analysts and fans?

Who cares? It was gone by the 2nd, and Rogers only went on to pitch 7 more scoreless innings to go with the 1st, giving him 23 scoreless innings pitched in a row in the playoffs, which is insane.

(Hell, I think it would be even cooler if he DID use some help; nothing says "crafty veteran pitcher" like being able to use an illegal substance to take 10 years off his mileage.)

A lot is being made of the inconsistencies between Rogers' explanations and what appears to be, uh, reality. (The gist: He says he washed it off on his own; others say he was told to wash it off by umps.)

Even though I can appreciate the suspicions, Rogers has all those zeros from the 2nd inning through the 8th inning (not to mention the previous 15 scoreless playoff innings) to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Question: Am I crazy for playing down his cheating? Or does his post-1st inning shut-out innings make the "scandal" moot-ish?

-- D.S.

Monday A.M. Quickie:
NFL Gets Its Own Scandal

Shawne Merriman: Steroids?! There isn't a bigger hit the NFL can take than to have its reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year – and one of the top defensive players in the league, period – test positive for steroids. (And he's supposed to be a spry youngster! What do you think the more veteran players have to do to stay in peak condition?)

NFL Week 7 Wrap (Appetizer Edition)
Player of the Week: Matt Bryant
Who's the NFL's new No. 2: Pats
Game of the Year: ATL 41, PIT 38
Hunh?!?! KC, HOU, MIN pull upsets
Dennis Green: NOW they can axe him

CFB Hangover
1. Rutgers
is for real.
2. Clemson cracks my Top 10.
3. ND is more lucky than good.
4. Troy Smith, 2006 Heisman winner.
5. Northwestern: What the... GACK!

BCS Update: Michigan jumped over USC into the coveted No. 2 spot, but all that does is ramp up the ante even further for the Ohio St-Michigan game, which will be the equivalent of a national-title semifinal.

And you can see the controversy over "Who's No. 2?" looming huge, particularly if/when USC loses. Would the final No. 2 be the UM-OSU loser? The one-loss SEC champ? One-loss Texas? One-loss USC? (Or unbeaten Big East champ?)

New MLB Labor Deal: I'd argue that a labor war is worse for baseball than a steroid epidemic; at least with the 'roids, the players are on the field. It's good to see the owners and players understand that.

Michael Schumacher retires: If we were to expand a "Who's the Greatest Athlete" debate beyond our own nationalistic myopia, it's very possible that Schumacher would grade out as the top athlete of the last decade. He, Tiger and Federer comprise a Mount Rushmore of a Top 3.

Chicago Marathon Weirdness: I'm not sure you'll see a stranger ending to a marathon than Chicago yesterday, when winner Robert Cheruiyot slipped at the finish line and conked his head.

Don't F with Bassy Telfair: I know I'm a little late on this, but I had to mention this development where Sebastian Telfair ordered rapper Fabolous shot after a few of Fabo's boys stole Bassy's pricey chain. Let's presume this is true -- because, I mean, it would be such a let-down if it wasn't -- how in the world would David Stern punish that?

NBA Preseason: Don't be surprised when we find out that Nazr Mohammed (16 pts, 12 reb) is an UPGRADE from Ben Wallace... I'm not sure Kings coach Eric Musselman should be fired, but you can certainly question his judgment and/or fitness to be an NBA head coach if he's spending the weekend before the season starts getting tanked up... Sorry to see Jay/Jason Williams' comeback attempt cut short. Is it too late to make him the poster guy of the D-League? Give him an exemption, Commish!

Nelson De La Rosa dead at 38: If the 2004 Red Sox had a circus-like atmosphere, it was certainly in part because of Pedro Martinez' little locker-room friend, De La Rosa, who died yesterday.

Given his near-magical presence – the Red Sox haven't won a title since he left the clubhouse – I'd argue that there's a "Curse of De La Rosa" in effect. (Now, where's my Shaughnessy-style book deal?)

-- D.S.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

NFL Sunday Tailgate

Just got back from my trip to Miami -- been traveling all day, sorry for the delay. I did have one notable star sighting: A-Rod, of all people, on Friday night at a South Beach restaurant. More on that tomorrow.

For now, I wanted to put up a post so you could have your say about all things NFL happening today. Use the Comments area and post as developments occur. Back in full force tomorrow a.m.!

-- D.S.