Saturday, January 27, 2007

Saturday 01/27 A.M. Quickie:
Serena Crushes In Battle With Maria

Serena crushes Maria: Is that supposed to be a proxy for our discussion yesterday of whether you're a "Serena man/woman" or a "Maria man/woman?"

Crawford explodes: Who correctly predicted that Jamal Crawford would score 52 points... ever in his career – let alone last night in a Knicks win over the Heat? (5th-best scoring binge in Knicks history).

Wiz(?) rule(?) East(?): Don't look now, but the team with the best record in the East is... the Wizards, after they beat the Pistons last night.

I had the Wiz picked for 3rd in the East this season, but FIRST? For a Wizards fan, the thought is simply impossible, but we'll take it.

(And it's why Gilbert Arenas is the first-half NBA MVP and Caron Butler absolutely deserves to be an All-Star this season.)

Speaking of unlikely: Who the hell is Brandt Snedeker, and how is he leading at the PGA's Buick Invitational?

NFL: Which coach might make a good caretaker for the Cowboys job for a season or two before they want to promote Jason Garrett? Chargers D.C. Wade Phillips seems to fit the bill.

College Hoops: Officials admit that Duke got extra time in its buzzer-beating win over Clemson. (No! Duke getting a favorable call... at home? Say it ain't so!)

Senior Bowl Mania: Isn't this whole exercise a bit archaic, given that it's a draft showcase and given the number of juniors who enter the draft but aren't scouted this week? Top players to watch in today's showcase of senior talent:

Ohio St QB Troy Smith.
Florida QB Chris Leak.
Texas DB Aaron Ross.
Michigan DB Leon Hall
LSU WR Dwayne Bowe.
Cal WR Daymeion Hughes
Nebraska DE Adam Karriker
Penn State OL Levi Brown

-- D.S.

Friday, January 26, 2007

2007 Bloggies Update:
Ack! Well, It Was a Good Try...

Shut out! The final nominations for the 2007 Bloggies came out... and this blog did NOT make it to the final 5 in "Best Sports Blog," despite your best efforts to rack up the volume of nominations (which you did... I saw a list of 30 semifinalists, based on volume of nominations, and I was right in there... which means that the official judges checked out the blog and... rejected it... ah well.)

The five finalists are, in no particular order: The Sports Frog, ArseBlog, Deadspin, Kissing Suzy Kolber and Up in Alaska. (All worthy finalists, but apparently the value of volume of user comments per post was discounted heavily. I thought that would help this blog stand out -- along with the usual commentary blather.)

I encourage you to vote, but mostly, I wanted to offer my huge and sincere thanks to everyone for going through the effort to nominate the blog. To be honest, that was a way bigger honor than any actual award. It meant a ton to me. (Meanwhile: Next year!)

Oh, do you want me to handicap the race, too? Like salt in the wound, my friends...

It's interesting: KSK won the 2006 Weblog Awards for Best Sports Blog (which is different than the Bloggies...sort of like the Golden Globes versus the Oscars) in what many observers felt was a huge upset over Deadspin. Like "Shakespeare in Love" over "Saving Private Ryan" huge.

The Bloggies are a little more mainstream. Because of that, I expect Deadspin to win this one, beating out KSK. (When Deadspin is considered "mainstream" and others are "fringe," you know the sports blog world has moved along.)

Then we'd be left with a 1-1 tie on the awards circuit and desperate for a thrilling rubber match. I may have to get involved in (hmm...set up?) that one-on-one showdown. We'll see. With its batallion of crazed (and growing) readership, KSK could pull off the shocking "double." And I don't mean a Smoot-style double. (But THAT would earn them my vote. Especially if they can include some video.)

-- D.S.

Friday 01/26 A.M. Quickie:
Gilbert Arenas' Version of "The Surge"

It's pretty rare to have any intrigue in All-Star voting. (Rory Fitzpatrick was an exception, but that was a gimmick.)

That's what makes Gilbert Arenas' selection as a starter for the East in the NBA All-Star Game – surging ahead of Vince Carter at the last moment – so amazing.

Arenas' final surge was nothing short of jaw-dropping spectacular: Arenas was more than 200,000 votes behind as recently as TWO WEEKS AGO. He finished 3,000 votes ahead. I've never heard of that kind of swing in the NBA – and maybe All-Star voting in any sport. (Maybe MLB?)

Next, it is the official coronation that Agent Zero* has arrived as a top-tier NBA star. It's been unofficial all season: First came the love from the bloggers. Next came the various crazy don't-call-them-quirks that humanized Gil in a way that no other NBA star was. Then came the scoring binges. Then the surprising success of his first signature shoe. And, now, the validation of the masses: A starting spot in the All-Star Game. (And not just any All-Star Game, but the greatest All-Star Game in the history of sports, if only because it's in Las Vegas.)

Meanwhile, there's a second angle that makes this even better: He displaced Vince Carter, who long had a lock on the All-Star starting spot, simply off of one dunk contest a long time ago. Since then, he has steadily lost cred among fans, but maintained a mysterious populist grip on that All-Star starting spot. But even VC couldn't stop the ultimate populist NBA hero: Agent Zero.

Oh, and as Gil himself pointed out: Thanks to the Sixers for trading the leading vote-getter among guards in the East, Allen Iverson. That moved everyone else up a spot and allowed Arenas the chance to pass Carter.

(Want merely the latest reason that fans love Arenas? On his blog, he was referencing the mission he's on to score a ton on the USA Basketball coaches who snubbed him last summer. Mike D'Antoni joked earlier this week that he'd hate to see what Arenas would do against Coach K and Duke. And so Arenas said on his blog he'd score "84 or 85" against Duke. I would pay a minimum of $1,000 to watch that on pay-per-view. We're quickly getting to the point where there has never been a player in NBA history as uniquely entertaining – combining on-court and off-court performance – as Arenas.)

(* - Please, mainstream media, start crediting the Wizznutzz for that nickname)

More NBA All-Star: Nice to see Chris Bosh join Arenas with the regulars Shaq, LeBron and Wade in the East starting lineup. The West is the same-old-same-old: Yao, KG, Duncan, Kobe, T-Mac. The only drama was whether AI would displace T-Mac. He didn't. That's a shame. (Who should replace Yao as the starting center in the West? My vote: Amare.)

Aussie Open: You're either a Serena man or a Maria man. (But I absolutely don't want to shut out the women readers: You're either a Serena woman or a Maria woman.) And I'd like to know which.

College Hoops: Duke edges Clemson...barely. It took a layup at the buzzer, but the bigger story was the way that Duke blew a 5-point lead with 13 seconds to go, necessitating the need for the buzzer-beating bail-out. (Oh, wait: Go figure -- Duke basically cheated their way to the W, using a friendly clock-operator to steal the win. Via Deadspin and Fanhouse.)

NBA Last Night: Hey, look: The Clippers are back at .500 after Cat Mobley's 3 beat the buzzer to beat the Nets.

NFL: The Garrett-Watch. I am not sure why, but I'm fascinated by the Cowboys-Garrett situation. At the very least, he's the offensive coordinator, but I think it's fairly obvious Jerry Jones wants to elevate him to head coach as soon as possible. What kind of head coach would sign with his successor literally standing next to him?

MLB: The Red Sox will finally sign JD Drew. His place next season on the DL is inevitable.

Salisbury Scandal: Let's Wrap It Up. With the week ending, the Salisbury stake-out is almost over. When USA Today's crack sports media team finally gets to a story, you know that story has long since lost its sizzle

But not before USA Today's Sports Media Apologist Michael Hiestand can weigh in by ripping bloggers while offering Sean a virtually unfiltered platform to protest, which he continues to do (and, by the way, Sean has the absolute right to do).

Let me focus on Hiestand's coverage: Wouldn't balanced journalism – even for a columnist – maintain that it would be worth finding someone with the other point of view to weigh in? I'm just asking.

Because everyone who has listened to the tape agrees Sean said "Jew" (and certainly didn't say "chew"), and that all Sean had to do is plausibly admit that it was a verbal flub with no intent to harm.

Then again, Hiestand has ESPN talent on his speed-dial, but I've never seen him quote a blogger. No, that would offer a wee too much legitimacy for a medium that must scare the hell out of him.

After all, the best, most timely, most insightful sports media criticism is coming from bloggers, not from newspapers.

Wow, that last rant could signal this could be a feisty Firday...

-- D.S.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thursday 01/25 A.M. Quickie:
Bush, 'Boys, HD NHL, Roush and More

Whether you're Richard Nixon or Paris Hilton (or Sean Salisbury) or Reggie Bush, those damn recordings will always getcha.

If there really ARE actual audiotapes of Reggie Bush talking about gifts and cash he received as improper benefits while playing at USC, it's going to be much harder for him to pull a "Who me?" act. (via Yahoo, who as usual have been all over this story)

And, oh by the way: If it all plays out like it looks like it's going to, USC will have its national title(s) vacated and Bush will have his Heisman taken away. (Wait: Is it like Miss America, where the runner-up gets the Heisman? Like you'd be upset if Vince Young got it...)

We can argue about whether that's too draconian a punishment, but I assume we can all agree that if there are rules in place and everyone else is (purportedly) following them, there has to be a punishment for those who don't. And I suspect there will be.

Who would have guessed that Lane Kiffin would be in a BETTER position jumping ship from next season's consensus No.1 college football team to coach the most hapless team in the NFL?

But even a 0-16 season with the Raiders will be better than being back with an NCAA body-slammed Trojans, where you can't spell "s-a-n-c-t-i-o-n-s" without an "S-C."

Speaking of Sean Salisbury: ProFootballTalk is all over the latest on his controversy, and this was obvious yesterday: By not 'fessing up right away and simply (and self-deprecatingly) blaming it on his fire-ready-aim speaking style -- and by specifically denying he said what he said -- both Sean and ESPN put themselves in the impossible position of defending what anyone who listens to the clip can obviously hear: He said "Jew." Sean blames the bloggers (go figure), but now the story is getting traction in mainstream media, which is a thornier problem for Sean. Prediction: There WILL be a reversal, but there will NOT be a firing.

NFL Coaching Carousel: The Cowboys want Jason Garrett to be their new offensive coordinator. Wait: Or is that new HEAD COACH? Even if he isn't named head coach now, it's obvious he will be soon enough. You have to wonder if that will affect the Cowboys' ability to hire a head coach whose role would be, at best, interim. Why not just go the trendy route and simply give the job to Garrett now? Sink or swim, baby!

Super Bowl XLI Update: The Thursday before the week before the Super Bowl is the apex (or nadir, I guess) of the coverage. All the storylines have been worn out from Monday through Wednesday and there's nothing new until the teams get to the Super Bowl host city. (I mean, hell: I'm in Chicago right now and I'm struggling to find the big stories that are anything more than more of what you've heard before.)

NHL All-Star Game: I actually watched a portion of the second period – in HD, no less! There's no question: HD makes watching hockey a lot better, as all the fans (and league execs) have claimed. But I still couldn't get too fired up.

Aussie Open: It finally gets interesting! Serena will play Maria in the final.

NBA: Shaq returns. And, guess what? It's not like it helped: The Heat lost to the Pacers. Meanwhile, the Suns streaked to their 15th straight win. Yes, it was over the Knicks, but at least NY made a game of it.

Conspiracy nuts, unite: Michael Vick's security tape from Miami airport was erased? Of COURSE it was. The whole thing is so freaking sketchy.

MLB: Willie Randolph given contract extension by the Mets through 2009. That's probably the smartest deal Omar Minaya will pull in 2007 (unless, of course, he gets Dontrelle Willis). I think Randolph will have the Mets celebrating a World Series title by the time his new deal runs out.

College Hoops Parity Watch: Texas A&M looked like a real contender after waxing Oklahoma State last weekend... then they lost to Texas Tech last night. LSU? More like LS-Who after a loss to Vandy. And, guess what? After watching Northwestern frustrate Ohio State into a ugly win for OSU last night, I'm suddenly very shaky on the Buckeyes' chances in March.

NASCAR Preview: (No, this isn't my big one.) As I've alluded, the most intriguing dynamic of the new season is the entry of Toyota into NASCAR. (And as I've said before: Imagine if MLB doodled along for the last 100 years without the Yankees, then they suddenly dropped in with that all-star lineup and $250 million payroll this season.)

You can almost understand Jack Roush's frustration. Almost. Instead, Roush comes across as oh-so-bitter in his criticism of Toyota. It's not like Roush himself hasn't spent to win; it's just that now he's playing in a game where there's an even bigger spender -- and, dare I say it, a smarter spender, too. (Speaking of smart spenders, Roush is going to sell a stake of his team to Red Sox owner John Henry, who knows a thing or two about being smart while spending.)

I can only imagine what it means for the psyche of the sport's longtime owners, drivers and fans that a new team long-associated with Japan -- even though Toyota makes and sells more cars made in the US than the other US car companies do -- is going to come in and kick their asses.

Yesterday, Roush threw out the word "war," which I think is ridiculous on lots of levels. He also used "siege," and I appreciate that Roush himself has developed a "siege mentality," but he sounds ludicrous. I presume his intent is to drum up jingoistic passions among NASCAR fans. As always, the fans will show themselves smarter than that – they'll follow the winners. And that must be what has got Roush so nervous.

(By the way, it's not like I'm a NASCAR fan. Most of you aren't either. But this Toyota-enters-NASCAR storyline is one of the most intriguing in sports this year – and probably of this decade, given NASCAR's rise to prominence. It's certainly the biggest storyline to happen to NASCAR itself in a long time.)

Finally: How ironic that it's the Duke LAX prosecutor Mike Nifong who is going to end up effed, and not the players he targeted.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wednesday 01/24 A.M. Quickie:
Hey-hey, ho-ho: That EPO Has Got to Go!

UPDATE (4:17 p.m.): NFL bans EPO. Here's what I always wonder when a league bans a new PED-like substance: How many players are going "Ruh-roh!"

Because you have to figure, and this is very important: If it's effective enough that it's worth banning now -- but it hadn't been banned before -- then EVERYONE is currently using it.

It's like andro before andro was banned by MLB. And certainly like amphetamines before greenies were banned by MLB. Can you imagine how many NFL players were using a previously LEGAL substance if it works so well that the NFL felt like it had to be banned?

(The flip side is that PED use in the NFL is so much more sophisticated than -- pfft! -- EPO that no self-respecting player was on the stuff anyway. That's one reason the union would be so amenable to banning it: Players are so far beyond it that it's an easy giveaway.)

Cowboys Coaching Search
: As we all might have expected, the Cowboys coaching search is packed with rumor- and speculation-filled drama.

The Titans say: Forget about Jeff Fisher. (I wonder how Fisher feels about that?)

Remember when the Cowboys grabbed a successful Oklahoma football coach to take over the team after a legend quit? Barry Switzer fell ass-backward into a Super Bowl title.

Perhaps that's what's driving the rumor that the Cowboys want Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Here's the problem: Stoops ain't interested.

Then there's the other intriguing rumor: That the Cowboys will make a play for Bears coach – sorry: Super Bowl coach – Lovie Smith, who is due for a HUGE pay-raise from the Bears.

If I was continuing my old "Quickie Vocab" series, I might call that "Lovierage," meaning "leverage over a current, thrifty employer thanks to interest from another, flashy employer."

Meanwhile, between Lane Kiffin (31 y.o.) and Mike Tomlin (34 y.o.), not to mention all the 30-something executives in MLB, how the hell can THIS 30-something not have a job helping to run a sports-media company? (Any takers? There's my email in the right-hand corner. Wait: You want bonafides? Well, there's this, if you missed it late yesterday.)

State of the Union meets Mutombo: Given Bush's low approval ratings, Dikembe picked the wrong SOTU to be a part of. Of course, Tom Brady pimped himself out for the obligatory "sports star" cameo before, so why not Deke?

Suns plaster Wizards: OK, so the "Game of the Year" in the NBA turned out to be a waxing. I know the Wiz play no D, but damn the Suns can score. But if PHX (14 straight wins) is truly the best team in the West right now, the Wiz still could easily still emerge as the best team in the East.

T'wolves fire Dwane Casey: McHale called it "inconsistency" – if "inconsistency" means "one of the Top 5 least intriguing teams in the NBA." (Want to jack up the intrigue, Kevin? Trade KG and re-boot the team under the Run-n-Suns model.)

Sixers win! Sixers win?! Apparently, the Sixers are going to make the second half of the season about ruining their chances to draft either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. They're off to a great start, beating the Hornets last night behind Korver and Miller.

I'm glad Andre is working out for Philly and all, but they've got to think about the long term. A few wins now costs them many, many wins later. Philly fans: Are you with me on this or am I wrong here? If you're not a contender (or at least on the way up), this is NOT the draft year to overachieve your way out of the Top 2 picks.

SB XLI Watch: Wait, will Tank Johnson have to wear an ankle bracelet when he plays? And will it have a Super Bowl XLI logo on it and sold in Chicago? Hell, everything else is.

The Eagles say that the alleged rift between Donovan McNabb and the team is overblown. Of course they said that. The truth is definitely in between, and the proof will come this August in training camp.

Falcons say Vick won't be traded: No, he'll simply be benched for Matt Schaub, then become the most expensive backup QB in league history. Maybe Vick can become the Tim Tebow to Schaub's Chris Leak.

Sean Salisbury Scandal: (Yes, it's buried down here.) Yes, he said "Jew." Yes, it was a slur -- and I don't know what would be worse: If he used it knowingly or subconsciously? ESPN has a small problem, because they've already staked out the position that he said "Chew," which is clearly not the case. (Have you listened to the audio? Try Deadspin or ProFootballTalk for the clip.)

College Hoops Parity Watch: Unranked Auburn beats No. 12 Alabama. The SEC is pretty damn good this year, but who else thinks Bama was a wee bit overrated?

MLB: All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium in '08. That'll be the announcement next week. If nothing else, it will be a navel-gazing spectacle. Particularly when Yankees ace Roger Clemens is starting for the A.L.

NHL All-Star Game: If Rory's not in it, I'm boycotting. How many of you have a favorite NHL team or player that you actively follow? How many of you consider yourselves avid NHL fans? What's your take on the decline of the league? Or are you happy that the fan base has been pared down to the die-hards?

(For the record, I'm nominally a Caps fan -- I actually went to a game or two every season as a kid in the Langway/Gartner Era. One of my distinct youth-fan memories is listening in bed on the radio to that classic billion-OT playoff game with the... was it the Islanders? So I guess I have some tenuous claim to jump on the Ovechkin bandwagon, but it's not like I'm buying a sweater. Maybe if they went back to the old Caps unis...)

Is Zidane the next Beckham? Rumors are flying in Chicago that the MLS Fire wants to make a play for him. He's better than Beckham, but brings a different sort of baggage. Like, head-butt baggage.

Sneaker-hoops impresario Sonny Vaccaro has retired from the shoe/hoops ("shoops?") game to jump in the ring on this "basketball academy" thing that David Stern seems to think will save his league that doesn't need saving. Vaccaro is probably one of the Top 10 most influential people in basketball in the last 25 years.

The Denver Post finally picked up on Carmelo Anthony's MySpace page. Suspension was good for business: He picked up 11,000 friends in the last week to reach a total of 26,000. Hmm: Maybe I should make me one of those. What do you think?

-- D.S.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

OK, Now THIS Is Awesome:
Take That, P. King and B. Simmons!

Well, this just about made my year. I *knew* there was a reason I always liked the fine group at FanIQ. Peter King? Bill Simmons? Scouts, Inc? Bah! Know-nothings and posers!*

What? You've never heard of FanIQ? You don't visit regularly? You're not a member? You're crazy: This is one of the best concepts for a sports Web site I've ever seen. It's taking the "Wisdom of Crowds" stuff that I always raved about in the Quickie (and feel even more strongly about now as a part of the, ah, "Underground") and bringing it to the masses of sports fans.

I'm not raving simply because they recognized my once-in-a-lifetime genius -- a year from now, when they've gotten huge and been acquired for zillions by ESPN or Time Warner or CBS or Yahoo or Google, you'll say you were part of it way back when. Now: Behold the glory! -- D.S.

(* - Everyone knows I'm just having a little fun here, right?)

The "State of the Sports Union," 2007 Edition

In 2003, in the first month of the Quickie, I started a tradition of writing something tied into the day of President's annual State of the Union address about the "state of the sports union." So where do we stand in 2007? Here is a quick take on the current "State of the Sports Union":

NFL: New Commish Roger Goodell has set a high bar for future seasons after this one: More fantasy football mania. More TV viewer interest. More parity. The Saints' run. Vince Young's emergence. LT's dominant season. Chicago's return to the Super Bowl. Peyton's breakthrough.

MLB: Ryan Howard emerged as the new "Face of Baseball," and if last year proved anything, it's that the tyranny of the "YankSox" is over.

NBA: Tonight's Suns-Wiz game is a perfect symbol for the league's new telegenic, fan-friendly style. Teams need to adapt to this new wide-open philosophy or lose relevancy. Only one team can win a title; the number of teams who can entertain is unlimited.

College Football: It's cynical, but BCS controversy like the one we just had is the best thing that can happen to the sport. That the underdog blew out the presumptive champ only made it more compelling.

College Hoops: Enjoy these next few months – thanks to the unique one-year lag effect of the NBA age rule (plus a handful of key players staying in school), it's a brief, brilliant Golden Age of the Big Man.

NHL: The Rory Fitzpatrick snafu is only fitting. The league is even more niche than a year ago. If any sport can slide into the void that exists after NFL-MLB-NBA-CFB-CBB-NASCAR, it will be Arena Football.

Sports Media: Last year's emergence of Deadspin as the biggest counterweight to ESPN (mainstream sports media lost that battle years ago) merely scratched the surface of blog-driven sports coverage that only keeps getting better, faster and stronger.

Sports Ethics: Cheating with PEDs? Criminal arrest? Pundits may bark, but fans don't really seem to care. (But display a lousy attitude? Fans will crucify you.)

Comments Question: What's YOUR take on the State of the Sports Union? How are things great, perhaps even never-been-better? How are things bad, perhaps even getting worse? Looking forward to reading your analysis on this.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 01/23 A.M. Quickie:
You Put Your Melo in My A.I.!

Carmelo Anthony scores 28 in return: But everyone knew Melo would score. The real question: How would AI do playing alongside him? The answer: Just fine, thanks. Iverson had 23 pts on 9/16 FG shooting, with 7 assists. You can already tell: They're going to be great together. Not great enough to win the West, mind you, but very entertaining.

Raiders hire Lane Kiffin, who becomes (at 31) the youngest head coach in the NFL and/or the only coach naive enough to take the Raiders job.

This hire shouldn't surprise anyone: Al Davis likes 'em young (yeesh) and, until this weekend, the front-runner for the job was Kiffin's co-worker in the USC offensive coaching staff, Steve Sarkisian (Age 32).

It remains to be seen how the Raiders will respond to a 31-year-old head coach with so little experience, although Jon Gruden did just fine in Oakland. (Though Gruden was a career NFL assistant.)

Of course, the Raiders would likely respond badly to ANY coach, no matter what age he is.

I say: Good for Kiffin to understand that there are 32 of these jobs in the world, and even if he fails, he'll be seen as having gained "valuable experience" as an NFL head coach, which is a golden ticket to coach again in the NFL *and* college.

SB XLI Watch: Peyton Manning will have an X-ray on his right thumb, but everyone seems to think it'll be fine by game time.

NBA Tonight: It is the Game of the Year (so far) -- Suns at Wizards. The Team Everyone Is Universally Slurping This Season versus the Player That Everyone Is Universally Slurping This Season. Look: You can love both or hate both, but it's a virtual guarantee that this game will be – aesthetically – as awesome an event as you'll see this season.

If you remember, the Suns were riding a sick 15-game win streak earlier this season, and the Wizards (no great road team) came to Phoenix and out-gunned the Suns, partially helping to fulfill Gilbert Arenas' prophecy that he would take his Team USA snub out on the ones who delivered it (54 points).

The rematch is tonight in DC: The Suns are again riding a wild win streak. Perhaps they will be motivated from the loss at home, but the Wizards at home are like a different team. And if the Wiz on the road could beat the Suns, then the Wiz at home have a great shot.

(Is it really true that NBA League Pass is on free preview this week? Oh, Agent Zero be praised! You have NO excuse not to watch.)

Another day, another Bengals arrest: This time it was CB Johnathan Joseph, arrested for pot possession. Anyone want to guess how many Bengals arrests that makes in the last 9 months? NINE. This team is the biggest bunch of criminals in sports history. They make the "Jail Blazers" look like the Portland Children's Choir.

On the one-year anniversary of the "81" game, Kobe scores 42. I took part in this great discusion about it last week: Isn't it amazing how that single scoring binge completely turned around Kobe's then-brutal image? (More NBA: How could the Knicks get blown out by the Heat if Miami didn't have Shaq OR Wade?)

Parcells quits Cowboys, retires from coaching (Day 2): I'm already sick of this story. No, I'm not surprised. No, I don't think he's coming back. No, I have no idea who the Cowboys will hire, but I'm quite sure that any coach in his right mind will insist they jettison T.O. before he does.

Michael Vick is off the hook, legally: But that doesn't mean that Bobby Petrino won't give his starting QB job away to Matt Schaub!

Those "evil" college football recruiting sites were taken to task yesterday in front of the NCAA's Knight Commission, which presumably played its usual role of worry-wart. Personally, I love them.

Are they sketchy? Sure. But for all the slop on the message boards, there is a lot of really good info you simply won't get from your local newspaper coverage or ESPN.

Are they professionalizing high school athletes? Sure. But that was going to happen without the influence of Web-based recruiting gossip.

I will say that there is a lack of quality control, and recruiting-site "reporters" have been known to try to steer recruits to certain schools or spread misinformation. (Of course, the "legitimate" recruiting sites are seeping with agendas, too.)

A fix is difficult: How are you going to regulate the skeeves? You could punish the schools if you can find a link, but that's not particularly productive. "Recruiting Web site reporter" is the new "street agent" (if you read "Raw Recruits," which everyone should).

NHL unveils new unis. Only one place to go for answers to you questions: UniWatch Blog.

So you tell me: What day would be most appropriate for my one-day-only NASCAR preview bonanza? (Here's a hint: Toyota. Imagine if MLB played the last 100 years without the New York Yankees, then all of a sudden, the New York Yankees joined the league. Haven't seen that analogy printed anywhere else, but I'm running with it.)

Barbaro loses! I presume Eclipse Awards voters know more about horse racing than the rest of us, but how did Barbaro lose out on "Horse of the Year" to Invasor? I guess because it's not a popularity contest.

"Bam Bam" Bigelow dead at 45: I remember when he made his WWF debut. He was such a force to be reckoned with.

YouTube Clip of the Day?

The Bloggie Nominations come out today. I have heard rumors that your collective effort put me among the leaders (say, Top 30 or so) in nominations-submitted for Best New Blog of 2006 and, amazingly, Best Overall Blog. At the very least, that moved this blog into the second phase of the process, where individual judges rated this blog against the other high-volume nominees. No matter how it turns out today, I can't thank you enough for the amazing show of support to get this far.

-- D.S.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Quickie Jinx Reversed!!!
Revisiting My Preseason SBXLI Pick

In an unprecedented result, I predicted this Super Bowl matchup in the preseason. A reader reminded me: Back on August 30 in the Quickie, I predicted Super Bowl XLI would be between...

The Colts and the Bears!

I re-affirmed it in this blog post on September 7. Ohmygod. Does this mean that the much-maligned Quickie Jinx has been reversed?! Best. Prediction. Ever.

I couldn't resist posting this now and not saving it for later this week, yet it is highly likely I will continue to refer to this, oh, for the next two weeks ever. -- D.S.

Bill Parcells Out in Dallas?

Eh, good riddance. But I welcome the analysis in the Comments section, including the answers to "Why?" (or "Why not?") and "What next for the Cowboys?" -- D.S.

Monday 01/22 A.M. Quickie:
Colts Shock Pats, Bears Bash Saints
Let the SB XLI Frenzy Begin!

Bears-Colts in Super Bowl XLI, but I'm still dwelling on the "How They Got There" angle, off of last night's epic Colts win over the Pats.

Here's the intrigue: Sure, Peyton and Indy exorcised evil BeliBrady ghosts of the past decade, but does it REALLY mean anything?

Beating the Pats in the penultimate game of the season was important. Like "Red-Sox-finally-beating-the-Yankees-in-2004" important.

But if, after winning the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox went on to lose the World Series to the Cardinals, the actual value of beating the Yankees would have lost most of its significance, even if the symbolic meaning did not.

Tom Brady isn't deified for winning AFC championships; he's deified for winning three Super Bowl rings. That's the harsh reality of the NFL: You are judged on your Super Bowl titles.

(Want a great example? Donovan McNabb. The Eagles FINALLY breaking through in the NFC two seasons ago -- despite what it seemed to mean the morning after the NFC title game -- means nothing today. Because he lost -- choked, literally and metaphorically -- in the Super Bowl.)

And so here is the upshot for Peyton Manning and the Colts: It don't mean a thing if they don't win that ring.

Colts win: That said, it sure must feel nice to not just beat the Pats for the AFC title, but to do it in such an unprecedented way.

Pats lose: Whoa. The Pats... chokers? Not just chokers, but record-setting chokers? Not just record-setting chokers, but Tom Brady doing the choking? When he got the ball with a minute to go, who DIDN'T think he'd come down the field and score a game-winning TD? EVERYONE knew it was coming. That's what made his game-ending INT so startling. It was so... un-Brady.

Bears win: The rumbling this a.m. is that Reggie Bush's somersault into the end-zone on his ridiculous TD to put the Saints back into the game motivated the Bears to destroy the Saints. I'm not sure how true that is, but after that play, Chicago played like a team possessed. And no one is going to confuse Rex Grossman with Tom Brady (except that Grossman is going to the Super Bowl and Brady is going home), but Rexy is no Trent Dilfer. Dilfer could never have pulled off that 4-for-4 drive ending in that TD strike.

Saints lose: Does losing before reaching the Super Bowl diminish the Saints' storybook season? Truthfully, yes. Fans barely remember the Super Bowl runner-up, let alone the conference title-game loser. But this Saints team WAS the story of the year in the NFL -- when the city needed it most -- and, even more important, the team's history of suckitude might actually be behind them. The true breakthrough was that they have shed the rep as a punchline.

Looking ahead to SB XLI: Here are the top 3 storylines you won't be able to escape from: (1) Peyton's redemption; (2) Two black head coaches, ensuring that for the first time, a black head coach will win the Super Bowl; (3) Memories of the Bears' 85 team.

More of today's biggest storylines:

Vick/Airport/Pot (Non-)Scandal: Uh, about that hidden water-bottle compartment? It didn't contain any pot. As you survey the over-the-top reaction from sports media last week, one word comes to mind: Oops. (ProFootballTalk correctly calls out the turnaround as suspiciously sketchy.)

Steelers hire Mike Tomlin: It's nice to see the force behind the NFL's "Rooney Rule" -- attempting to give minorities a better chance to become head coaches -- put money to mouth.

Instant-history cynics might note that the Steelers are simply jumping on the NFL's hottest bandwagon of Monday morning: African-American head coaches as the new key component to getting a team to the Super Bowl.

(NFL owners and GMs are nothing if not quick to try to copy the blueprint of winning teams: I'll be curious to see whether this will spark more minority hiring at the head-coach level.)

NFL Coaching Carousel: Jim Mora DID get back to Seattle after all. He signed up to be an assistant for Mike Holmgren and the Seahawks. (Watch your back, Ty Willingham.)

College Hoops Parity Watch: So much for Pitt as a contender. No. 24 Marquette waltzed into Pitt's house and KO'ed the No. 6 Panthers in OT.

MLB Hot Stove: Chase Utley signs 7Y/$85M extension. Worthy of his rise to become the best fantasy 2B in the league.

NBA: Carmelo returns tonight. And NOW the grand experiment of chemistry between Melo and AI begins. This will be fascinating to watch.

-- D.S.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sunday NFL Live-Comment Spectacular!
Or: "Dan Remembers the NFC Title Game"

Colts Win! Colts Win! Wow. Well, if you're going to exorcise your demons, it doesn't hurt to do it so epically, pinning the biggest comeback in conference title-game history on your nemesis en route to a Super Bowl. (So where will a certain Pats fan put THIS on his Vengeance Scale?) More in the a.m.

Colts 21, Pats 21
: Another moment where apathetic fans without a rooting interest (beyond disliking BOTH teams) are in good shape. The Colts have actually woken up and made it a game. As good as the Pats looked (and as bad as the Colts looked) in the first half, they look like ass (or good) in the second half. Lot of game left to play, though. Nice to finally see the Colts show up.

Pats-Colts Halftime Update
: The great thing about hating BOTH teams in this game is that you can lament the inevitability of the Pats' victory (as assured as the insufferable reaction from Pats fans) AND mock the ludicrousness of the Colts' sucking.

Bears win NFC:
And they did it decisively. That's why you play the regular season: For home-field advantage in a game like this. Lovie Smith gets a huge boost. Rex Grossman gets a temporary reprieve. You can keep Drew Brees and his stats: Rexy's headed to the Super Bowl.

As we set up for the Pats-Colts game, I'll predict this: If the Bears play the Colts, they'll win the Super Bowl; if they play the Pats, they'll lose.

Meanwhile, my three-day trip to Chicago this upcoming week is going to ride the fine line between fascinating and insufferable.

Bears-Saints Halftime Update
: If the Saints play in the second half with the same urgency they played that last, slice-through-the-D offensive drive of the first half, they could win the game, if only because the Bears managed to turn all those Saints turnovers and all that great field position into a measly 17 points. That's a dangerous game.

Live-Comment on the conference title games now!
(And, during a commercial break -- or three -- enjoy the bonus post directly below this paragraph that I just put together about my own personal experience at the NFC conference-championship game.)

BONUS POST! In the spirit of the NFL conference championship games, I wanted to relay my own personal story about the event. During the 1997 season, I was working for the NFL, helping the league manage

(This was long before the days of a more editorially provocative – uh, that's relative, of course – of Carucci, Schefter and Bakay you'll find today. But one mainstay from the current site who was working back then was Gil Brandt, who – let me just say – was the nicest, most considerate person I met while working for the league. He's a truly great guy.)

Anyway, the league wanted some editorial coverage from its staff, so they flew me out to San Francisco to "cover" the NFC title game between the 49ers and the Packers. I had a field pass, which was pretty cool; I had an early-model digital camera, which was not. It took roughly the same time to snap a shot as it did to create a daguerreotype in 1870s Deadwood, so you can imagine what my "action" shots looked like.

Aside from not really understanding what my role was supposed to be as a rep of "covering" the game -- remember, I was coming off my experience as a "real" "journalist" in Seattle at what was then known, gloriously, as, where I was the college basketball editor.

I do remember poking around in a way I probably wasn't supposed to, having thought that simply being an employee of the league with a field pass was enough "credential" to go about my business and "cover" the game. And that's where this story takes a bizarre turn:

There was a moment when I was swooped up by what felt like the KGB in the USSR in the early 1980s. Muscled by a couple of goons, I was brought into a back room, where I met the NFL's head of security. (They might have been small. They might have asked politely enough. Time has fuzzied the memory.)

Now, let me just say here that the NFL does NOT fuck around on the security tip. They're all ex-military, ex-CIA, ex-FBI – cripes, they could have been in "The Unit" for all I knew. The point is: They were baddasses. You don't hear about them. You don't read about them, except maybe in regards to some opposition research done on potential draft picks on behalf of the teams in the league.

You certainly don't see them. But I did. Face to face. And, make no mistake: They scared the bejeesus out of me.

I don't remember the content of the conversation, exactly. I remember them asking me what I was doing there. I stammered out something about being part of (remember, at the time I thought they were going to throw a bag over my head and throw me into the San Francisco Bay, never to be heard from again).

They found my excuses suspicious. I presume that they – like much at the league at the time – didn't really understand that there even WAS an I presume that these ex-CIA guys thought that "dot-com" stood for "dot-Communist," and I was to be treated like Aldrich Ames.

I was told – either firmly, sternly or shit-your-pantsingly – that I was to be MUCH better about making sure all of my movements and "clearance" were tracked through the league's PR office. Perhaps it was the rohypnol they injected me with when I entered the room, but I felt like my head was a balloon on a string, and I simply bounced it up and down in recognition of what they were saying.

Actually, I was really having an internal monologue with myself while this was going on. The gist of what I was saying to myself: "Are you fucking kidding me? What the hell is going on here? Are they really trying to *intimidate* me? Or scare me? Sure, it's working, but do they understand that (a) I work for the same team, and (b) it's a fucking football game, not national security."

There was a moment when the internal monologue got loud and disparaging enough that I had to suppress a smile, simply at the ludicrousness of it all – being treated like I'm some sort of threat to the league. But one look at the badass Mr. Security Honcho wiped any thought of that out of my mind.

He never raised his voice. That's partially what freaked me out about him. He was cold, like someone who had killed a man. OK, or at least derailed a sketchy college football players' draft hopes for a living. But I'm quite sure he'd killed a man. I could see it in his "Krazee-Eyez Killa" eyes. But I was no Larry David. (Well, Jewish. And neurotic. But not nearly wealthy enough.)

As I nodded my understanding of his talking-to -- profusely apologizing for any inconvenience I might have caused, because I am, at my core, a weakling kiss-ass -- I was escorted out of this hidden back room and back out into the NFL's main compound.

The conference title-game lesson learned? Don't fuck with NFL security.

(The postscript? They still sent me to San Diego for the Super Bowl, where I covered the game trepidatiously, mindful of my lesson at the NFC title game. The best part? The NFL allowed each employee at the game to have two tickets, which I gave to my father and brother, who flew out using miles and stayed with me for free in my hotel room, enjoying the NFL's hospitality and insider access to places like the NFL Experience theme park and MTV's Rock and Jock game, where Keyshawn Johnson told me to "Fuck off" when I asked him for a fun quote. But that's another story.)

ORIGINAL POST: My online presence might be spotty today (though I'm going to try to be back online and joining our NFL live-comment by the time we get to the first game), so I'm creating the live-comment post to handle analysis and commentary on today's NFL games now. I know I'm missing the usual commentary on the day's big storylines (Tomlin to Steelers? Texas A&M thumps Okie St! and more), but everyone is focused on the games today. So let's dig right in with final previews and analysis, flowing right into game time. I'm excited to join in today. Huge day. More interesting: A highly unpredictable day. Anyone who says they know what is going to happen is fooling you. But, again, the one constant is the overwhelming rooting interest for the Saints (and overwhelming sense of "Whoever wins, we lose" toward the Pats and Colts). -- D.S.