Saturday, October 27, 2007

OK, So About the Gators' Loss...

What he said.

Saturday 10/27 (Very) Quickie

Rainy day = Zero guilt about sitting in front of the TV from noon to midnight watching college football and Game 3 of the World Series.

CFB Today: West Virginia at Rutgers in a nooner, Cocktail Party at 3:30, Ohio State at Penn State in the night game, with an eye on unbeatens Arizona State and Kansas, as well as that huge USC at Oregon game. That covers most of the remaining BCS contenders playing today.

W.S. Game 3: Papi will start at first base, with Youkilis on the bench. It's a tough choice, either way. I suspect this is the right way to go, with Youk available off the bench to pinch hit and be a defensive replacement at 1B in the later innings.

Chargers to host game vs. Texans in San Diego: Good. The region could use the distraction.

Genarlow Wilson freed: Justice delayed, but at least it was justice eventually.

NBA Preseason finales: Kevin Garnett goes triple-double on the Cavs (21-13-10), in a nicely symbolic victory by the Celtics, foreshadowing his 07-08 MVP season and the Celtics' inevitable dethroning of Cleveland as the Eastern Conference champs. (Oops: I just gave away the two big headlines of the remainder of my NBA preview on Monday and Tuesday. A special bonus for readers who bother to check the blog on weekends.)

Injuries: Mike Bibby out up to two months with a thumb injury, a hazard of playing stars during the preseason.

Feel free to track the day's college football events in the comments section...

-- D.S.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday 10/26 A.M. Quickie:
BC is No. 1, BoSox are 2-0, NFL Picks, More!

Today's Names to Know: Boston College, Matt Ryan, Curt Schilling, Ohio State, London, Steven Jackson, Boston Celtics, The Starter Wife, UNC hoops, David Stern, "real" fans.

Boston College is No. 1! For the first time in perhaps the entire season, college football fans can go into Saturday with a sense of clarity over who should be No. 1 on Monday: Boston College.

Because no matter what Ohio State does on Saturday night at Penn State, the Eagles will have a stronger claim to No. 1 than the Buckeyes, after B.C. amazed in 14-10 win at Virginia Tech, which included a thrilling 14-point comeback in final minutes.

Both BC and OSU are unbeaten: It all comes down to strength of schedule and "quality" wins; B.C. has the edge, particularly after racking up the most impressive single win of any BCS contender: Winning AT Virginia Tech, one of the toughest places to play in the country.

The Eagles did it in the slop, a rainy mess, with the Hokies controlling the game – dominating – for 55 minutes before re-energized Heisman contender (dare I say "front-runner?") Matt Ryan engineered two TD drives, with a very effective/lucky onside kick in between.

It was one of those "miracle" wins where you begin to think that B.C. has a destiny this season to reach the national title game.

Come Sunday morning, B.C. will have a stronger claim to that national title game than any other team in the country. Their most impressive trick: Leap-frogging the Buckeyes before OSU even takes the field.

(The only question is whether I put LSU ahead of Ohio State at No. 2. Be honest: LSU's weekend opponent -- vaunted Idle -- seems as impressive as any previous opponent on Ohio State's soft schedule.)

World Series: Red Sox take 2-0 lead over Rockies after 2-1 win at Fenway in Game 2.

Curt Schilling pitched phenomenally, and the Red Sox tag-team bullpen of Okajima and Papelbon shut down any Rockies' mojo for a comeback in this game. It might be the last time Sox fans see Schilling pitch in a Boston uniform; if so, it's been quite a run for him with the team and the fans.

As for the Rockies, now, we're in territory that Colorado hasn't seen in a long time: Two losses in a row? They only had two losses total in their previous 23 games.

But this is the World Series, where being down 2-0 means that every single one of the three games in Denver is a must-win for the Rockies, if not technically then realistically.

CFB Preview and Picks: TWO unbeatens could go down. But which ones? I am projecting this weekend to be as crazy as the last four. Ohio State will either get its first moderately meaningful win of the season or get its first loss... Arizona State and Kansas face their first real tests of the season (and I project both will lose)... One-loss BCS contender Oregon has a make-or-break game to put a stake in the heart of USC... One-loss BCS contender West Virginia takes on a Rutgers team bent on revenge for last season... and all eyes in Jax on Heisman leader Tim Tebow's right (non-throwing) shoulder.

1 Ohio St over at 25 Penn St (OSU's first real win)
21 Cal over at 4 Arizona St (Another "And-Oh!" goes down!)
5 Oregon over 12 USC (Puts Oregon into the Top 3?)
At Rutgers over 7 West Virginia (KO's WVU's BCS hopes)
At Texas A&M over 9 Kansas (ANOTHER "And-Oh!" goes down!)
10 South Florida over at 21 UConn (USF: Another Top 25 W)
11 Florida over 18 Georgia (As usual, right?)
13 Missouri over Iowa State (Less trouble than Okla had)
14 Kentucky over Mississippi State
15 Virginia over at NC State (Hoos: BCS computer fave)
16 South Carolina over at Tennessee (Huge SEC East game)
17 Hawaii over New Mexico St (Unbeaten and... so?)
19 Texas over Nebraska (More bad news for Huskers)
20 Michigan over Minnesota (I have them much higher)
22 Auburn over Ole Miss (Tigers: CFB's best 3-loss team)

NFL Week 8 Preview and Picks: My Top 5 Most Intriguing Storylines.

1. NFL in London: Euros love footy!
2. Pats 8-0: And don't give a f***
3. Favre's MNF finale: Maybe, finally?
4. Steven Jackson returns: Rams need him.
5. 2-4 teams: On edge of playoff abyss

At Bears (3-4) over Detroit (4-2)
Steelers (4-2) over at Bengals (2-4)
At Titans (4-2) over Raiders (2-4)
At Rams (0-7) over Browns (3-3)
Giants (5-2) over Dolphins (0-7) (London!)
At Vikings (2-4) over Eagles (2-4)
Colts (6-0) over at Panthers (4-2)
At Jets (1-6) over Bills (2-4)
Chargers (3-3) over Texans (3-4)
At Bucs (4-3) over Jags (4-2)
At Pats (7-0) over Redskins (4-2)
Saints (2-4) over at 49ers (2-4)
At Broncos (3-3) over Packers (5-1) (MNF)

Today's Must-Read: The NFL is letting down its female fans. This is an example of a great post – passionate, interesting, exclusive, exhaustively researched. Kudos to The Starter Wife and the Ladies... on this terrific post.

(And TSW earns extra points from me because she emailed to say The Starter Boyfriend adopted her Steelers. Given the fact that I have my NFL allegiance from adopting the team for which I was assigned to write a Deadspin season preview, he's doing OK by me.)

NBA Preview: Top 5 Storylines
1. Celtics: After 20 years, a return to relevancy
2. Kobe Trade: Will we see a deadline deal?
3. Durant + Rookies: Big sleeper? Al Thornton.
4. Surprises: Who is this year's Warriors?
5. Refs: Fan Preview: "YOU ON THE TAKE, REF?!"

What's your top NBA storyline this season? And what's your top under-the-radar storyline this season? Coming Monday: Awards. Coming Tuesday: Playoff/Finals Picks.

College Hoops: UNC tops Coaches' preseason Top 25. UCLA, Memphis, Kansas and Georgetown round out the Top 5. This is basically what everyone thought at the end of last season.

More Top 25 notes: Two-time defending champ Florida isn't in the Top 25 (the Gators are ranked 35th)... The USC Mayos are ranked 18th, and the Kansas State Beasleys are ranked 26th... the highest-ranked mid-major is Southern Illinois at 23... Of the teams who finished unranked last season, Michigan State is the highest now (8th), followed by Indiana (9), Duke (11), Marquette (12) and Gonzaga (14)...

As a reminder, my first crack at the Final Four is: UCLA (champs), Georgetown, Tennessee (ranked 7th) and UNC. That isn't NEARLY unconventional enough, but give it time...

More NBA: David Stern won't punish all the refs – half the freaking group – who violated the league's ban on casino gambling. What was he going to do: Suspend half the league's refs?

I recognize that the rule was probably a little overwrought, except for two things: (1) The fact is, the refs DID break a rule, which is disconcerting, because it involves gambling, if legal.

(2) What's so unreasonable about asking pro sports officials to steer clear of casinos while they are employed by the NBA? Is their compulsion so great they can't put their incredibly exclusive job ahead of their need to gamble? Because if that's the case, aren't they at risk to fall into a trap where their gambling compromises their job?

(The same thing applies to players: Don't you think that Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley's severe gambling habits puts them in at least MILD risk of compromising games in the service of their psychological addiction? It's hardly a heretical point to raise.)

What makes a "real" fan: Huge thanks to all commenters who made yesterday's discussion of what makes a "real" fan one of our most interesting ever. And additional thanks to all readers who emailed me directly to share their own thoughts and stories. Enjoyed them all.

Find any blogger reaction to the post? Email the URL to me so I can link to it (whether they found the story compelling or not -- I welcome all discussion). For example, the highly esteemed Eric McErlain at Fanhouse put up this. It's a really phenomenal post by one of my favorite sports thinkers, and I really recommend you give it a read. (Here's another Fanhouse post from Josh Alper, on his brief fling with Michigan State.)

More Reactions (updating):
Sam Versus World.
FreeDarko. (Last link, with the phrasing I'd like to frame: "Shanoff's liberated fandom.")

(Ironically, the name of my first company, a start-up, was "Real Fans," an online-sports pioneer acquired by AOL. Were any of you out there AOL members back in mid-90s and remember the site? God, it was so fun. Sometime, I'll recount how crazy it was, as if anyone really cares.)

Wow, how about that: Two days this week of two-a-day posting? Could this be the start of a trend? Hmm...

-- D.S.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fan-In-Law: One Fairweather Fan's Story
and Origins of Bandwagon Sports Allegiance

What kind of self-respecting lifelong sports nut discovers his fan-defining allegiance in the rooting interest... of his spouse?

Of the few things I am regularly and consistently questioned about (and, yes, mocked for), my fan allegiance to Florida has gotten the most visceral reaction from fellow fans. Inspired by that, I put this essay together for a prestigious mainstream publication, which – predictably – fell through. Rather than have the essay sit on my laptop, I decided to publish it here (where apparently they'll publish ANYTHING) and use it for future reference, when people ask me about my non-traditional fan allegiance.

This fall, every Saturday I will wake up with rabid anticipation, choose between a dozen different possible "lucky" outfits, then set up (or stand up) on the couch next to my wife to root on my Florida Gators football team.

Or should I say: HER Florida Gators football team.

She is the one born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida. She is the one with the lifetime of memories of going to Gator games with her family, meeting idolized players and coaches, celebrating Florida's 1996 National Championship.

I, however, am a Gator-by-marriage – a fan-in-law.

My passion for my wife's favorite team was sparked six years ago on our first date -- even before my passion was sparked for her. Actually, as soon as she started talking about her Gator fandom, I was smitten by meeting a woman who loved sports as much as I do... and particularly smitten with envy for her particular rooting interest.

I was a huge lifelong sports fan, to be sure, but I lacked that dominant gravitational, life-defining pull of a single team. Growing up in D.C., I had adolescent rooting interest as a displaced Bears and Cubs loyalist, the product of a paternal lineage to Chicago. However, when I moved to Chicago for college, my immersion into Windy City fandom actually turned me off to the teams. Meanwhile, like other incoming freshmen in Big Ten country, I immediately gravitated to my new school's football team: But Northwestern was a perennial punchline. How satisfying could my fandom be when my deepest hope was for a .500 record and postseason bowl eligiblility in the Local Yokel Bowl? After Northwestern's Rose Bowl year – the greatest season of my life as a fan – I left Chicago, and my aimless career path in sports was mirrored in my fandom.

That foundation made me vulnerable to be seduced by a winner. That was the initial attraction to this woman across the table from me on our first date. I have heard stories of people on dates with successful professionals and fantasizing themselves as spouses of a doctor or hedge-fund manager; I sat across from my date and imagined how happy I would be married to a fan of a great sports team.

In the months that followed after we met, that first football season of our courtship – 2001 – was my initial tryout as a Gators fan. I fell for them quickly: The rabid fan base, Gator Nation. The legendary stadium, The Swamp. The charismatic gun-slinging coach, Steve Spurrier. The legacy of All-American players and future NFL superstars, like Emmitt Smith (my wife's all-time favorite Gator). The never-ending selection of garish merchandise and memorabilia.

More than anything, I was instantly addicted to the expectations. It wasn't just that the team won as a basic matter of course, which they did, often prolifically. It was that they were expected to win. Even a single loss had the potential to be season-crushing. For a Northwestern fan whose idea of an extremely satisfying year included being able to count the wins on more than one hand, the acutely experienced tightrope of a season spent following a national-title contender -- where every week was a win-or-bust virtual playoff -- felt more real than anything I had ever before experienced as a fan.

But would Gator Nation even want me? More than anything As a bonus, embracing the Gators became the fastest, easiest and most palpable way I could win the approval of my future spouse's extended family. My immersion into the local media, Southeastern Conference team two-deep depth charts and next week's opponent gave way to an obsession with tracking recruiting battles, lurking on online message boards and attending the opening of spring practice. If it didn't win my in-laws over, it didn't hurt that at the same time I displayed devotion to their daughter, I showcased fealty for their sports team.

(Years later, I am still not quite sure what my wife thinks about our arrangement. She never asked me to join her as a Gators fan; I simply encroached. I can see it from her perspective: It is one thing to agree to share your life with someone, but it is an entirely different compromise to agree to share your sports fandom with someone. Despite the nature of fandom as collective, there is something intensely personal about how each person roots for their team. For better or worse, I confess to co-opting that from her.)

Given the randomness of romance – my wife and I met on a blind date – I wonder what the state of my fandom would be had my wife and I never met. Would I, like the rest of the country, mostly despise the arrogance of Gator Nation, particularly after the last 18 months of championships in football and basketball? Would another team have filled this void I felt? (I cringe: What if I had met a woman whose favorite team was... Florida State?) And what would have stuffed my closet shelves if not my two-dozen Gator-themed T-shirts?

This fall marks the start of the seventh year of my Florida fandom, pre-puberty stage by common sports-fan standards. But most other fans don't see it as positively. When I explain to them how I came to root for Florida, they usually first question my masculinity at having adopted my wife's team, quickly followed by universal agreement that I am the worst kind of fan: A bandwagoneer.

Fair enough. But in return, I argue that making an active choice about my fandom -- even pushing 30, in what some would describe as a "mid-fan-life-crisis" -- wasn't just acceptable, but arguably superior to the more traditional, passive roots of sports allegiance:

Biology: Let me guess – you root for your favorite team because it's the team your father rooted for, and he "passed it on" to you. While I agree that's a nice way for parent and child to bond, it smacks of inheritance rather than fandom earned through independent, thoughtful decision.

Geography: Another accident of circumstance. Your fandom is less about the team itself and more about having a sense of civic pride. This is how fans in cities without teams can so quickly latch on to a new team in town – stay classy, Jacksonville -- or how fans in cities like Cleveland or Baltimore, where legendary teams left town for relocation, can so quickly latch onto the replacement team. I don't question your town pride; I question why, if you live in St. Louis, you aren't still a Cardinals fan (even though they play in Arizona) and why you are a Rams fan (even though they came from Los Angeles).

College acceptance: Even with nearly two decades of perspective on it, fandom for one's college team feels artificial; you do it because you're supposed to. I appreciate that your first day on campus included learning the words to the school fight song and taking a trip to the bookstore to buy your first piece of Michigan paraphernalia. But you were one rejection letter or underperforming high school semester away from rooting for Sparty up the highway at Michigan State... or staying on Long Island and going to a state school without a football team like the one you so unquestioningly root for today.

Despite these observations, my personal experience has made me a lot less judgmental of the origins -- and sincerity -- of other people's fan allegiances. You can crow that you "care more" than other types of fans (both outside and inside your own team's base), but I'd argue that it's possible you're only projecting your own insecurities.

There might be an argument at the margins: How many "real" fans have rooted for their team to tank for draft position? Yet how many fans, however casual, would never even THINK about doing something like that? Who the bigger fan is in that scenario is up for debate. The most important point isn't who cares more (or even who has cared longer); it's that fans care, period.

I am sure most fans fall into one or more of those root causes of rooting interest. I don't question the sincerity of your devotion, and I don't question why the top criteria for your personal brand of fandom would be serendipity. I wasn't bestowed my favorite team like a birthright or boxed into it through my zip code or delivered it in a fat envelope during my senior year of high school. Undeniably, chance played a big role for me, too.

But I was 28, the sports version of a 40-year-old virgin, when I fell in love with my favorite team in the same college football season I fell in love with my future wife. I did it with a lifetime of fan experiences behind me, similar to my lifetime of dating experiences -- enough to know the real thing when I felt it.

And it is enough to drown out the jeers of "Bandwagoneer!" with my own sincere cheer: "Go Gators." (Um, right, sweetie?)

-- D.S.

Thursday 10/25 A.M. Quickie:
RoxSux, Beckett, BC@VT, FreeDarko, More!

Today's Names to Know: Kobe(!), Josh Beckett, Ryan Speier, Curt Schilling, Ubaldo Jimenez, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Antoine Walker, Steven Jackson, David Garrard, San Diego, Free Darko and More!

Hot Rumor! Is Kobe about to be shipped to the Pistons?! Tracking... (But it makes this Basketball Jones post make a lot more sense...)

World Series Game 1: Red Sox blitz
Rockies 13-1. Was it the 8-day layoff? The cross-country trip? The World Series stage? Going against the greatest post-season pitcher of our generation? Boston's own Rockies-esque momentum?

Whatever it was, the Rockies lost in a way they haven't since their miracle run began 23 games ago, of which they have now won only 21 of 23. It was the Rockies' first loss in these playoffs.

The story of the day will be: Was it the layoff? Not to take anything away from the Red Sox – either the dominant Beckett or the big (and patient) Boston bats. But the Rockies looked off... way off:

The normally clutch bats were silent. (Beckett K'ed the Rox' first 4 hitters of the game). The normally lock-down pitching was atrocious. (In the game's signature moment, Rox RP Ryan Speier delivered 3 straight bases-loaded walks, even after the game was well out of reach.)

I think it's fair to say that the 8-day layoff contributed heavily to taking the Rockies' glorious momentum and beating it upside the head wit a bat. Having witnessed first-hand the Rockies' last game before this and this one, on TV, they looked like two different teams.

Maybe it was not surprising that the Rockies would lose this Game 1 beyond the layoff, given Beckett (legend grows), given the first game being in Boston, given it was Colorado's first World Series game ever – even given the Law of Averages.

The true test will be: What happens tonight? The assumption (at least by me) always was that Sox would win the games Beckett started. If the Sox win Game 2, these Rox might be in trouble; if the Rockies win, reigniting the team's spark heading back to Colorado for three straight games, it's a whole new Series.

Superlative Watch: Most. Runs by a team in a World Series Game 1. Ever.

Fascinating counter-stat: Three teams in World Series history have won Game 1 by 10 runs; all three lost the Series. (Hat-tip to Tom Boswell, the best newspaper baseball columnist in the country.)

World Series Game 2 Preview: Legendary Curt Schilling versus rookie Ubaldo Jimenez. On paper, it certainly points to another Boston win. After that 21-of-22 streak entering the World Series, it seems crazy to think that the Rockies could lose two games, let alone two straight.

CFB: Boston College at Virginia Tech. ESPN's Thursday Night Football is turning into the weekly Must-See game of the week. Last week: Unbeaten BCS No. 2 South Florida went to Rutgers and lost (called it!).

This week: Unbeaten BCS No. 2 BC goes to Virginia Tech -- and will lose. VA Tech plays too well at home, they will be looking to ruin BC's season on a national stage, and a win will potentially catapult themselves into the Top 5 of the BCS rankings.

Hell, VT's only loss is at LSU: Of every one-loss team, theirs is the least offensive. (OK, I'm kind of in the bag for VT, because I picked them in the preseason as my national champ.)

A win by BC at VT affirms their worthiness in the Top 2 (putting them ahead of Ohio State) and clears the path for an unbeaten run right into the BCS title game.

Top 25 Rankings: I remain totally unsatisfied with the way my ballot this week played out on Sunday night. I decided to keep it, even though after reconsideration (and lots of really good emails from readers), I wanted to change my mind before Tuesday's BlogPoll deadline.

I stuck with it, and continue to feel like a fraud (or, I should say, more like a fraud than usual). EDSBS' brilliant ballot (and the fact that 25 other BlogPoll voters had LSU at No. 1) made me feel even worse.

I'm vowing a huge shake-up on Monday, with or without rational explanation. I'm chalking this week's lame-ass (even hypocritical) ballot decisions to the toll of the wackiest season of results in college football history. Here's Brian Cook's Fanhouse post on this week's BlogPoll.

There's a split between the Ohio State group and the LSU group. Despite my general confusion, I stand by one thing: If LSU played Ohio State on a neutral field -- tomorrow or in early January, it doesn't matter -- the Tigers would crush the Buckeyes as soundly as Florida did a year ago.

NBA Trade: Zzz. Minnesota's Mark Blount and Ricky Davis to Miami for Antoine Walker and throw-ins. I really really hope that Walker doesn't retard the development of Minnesota's young talent. He'll take much-needed shots from Foye and Brewer (though no more than Davis, I guess), although I suppose he clangs enough that he'll be good for a few more rebounds for Baby Al Jefferson.

NBA Preview Schedule:
Friday: Storylines (Quickie: Kobe)
Monday: Awards (Quickie: KG)
Tuesday: Playoff Picks (Quickie: SA d. BOS)

NFL: Steven Jackson could play this weekend. Isn't it a statement about the sorry status of the Rams that they could be getting their star player back against the Browns for a home game and most people still see them losing?

Where will the Chargers play on Sunday? The answer is coming today. Could be San Diego. Could be Dallas. Is there a Wild Card location?

NFL vs. Retirees: League adds $10 million to the retirement fun, and the money will go to joint replacement, cardio screening and assisted living.

David Garrard out 4 weeks: Too bad the Jags dumped Byron Leftwich. He'd come in handy right about now, wouldn't he? (Of course, Leftwich just had ankle surgery and will be out 3-4 weeks himself.)

Yankees Manager Watch: Could a new manager be named this week? And will it be Don Mattingly, as I suspect it will be?

Sports Blog Navel-Gazing: Huge congrats to the fellas over at Free Darko, who just announced they have landed a book deal, for a book to come out next fall before the 2008-2009 NBA season. Can't wait for that.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wednesday 10/24 A.M. Quickie:
Rox top Sox, Mattingly, Durant, KSK, More!

Today's Names to Know: Colorado Rockies, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Don Mattingly, San Diego, Kissing Suzy Kolber, Kevin Durant, Free Darko, Hoover, Bizarro Sports Journalism and More!

UPDATE: Remember the (more-than-usual) self-loathing I went through during the exercise of filling out my BlogPoll Top 25 ballot (and doing my Deadspin column this week)? EDSBS' rank-what-you-see ballsiness in his poll this week makes me feel even worse. I tip my hat to you, Orson, for being the man I apparently lack the capacity to be.

MLB: World Series Rox vs. Sox, Game 1 in Boston
. I made my pick earlier this week, and I'm sticking with it: Rockies in 6, with the Red Sox taking the two games that postseason legend Josh Beckett starts. The Red Sox are powerful, but the Rockies are working a momentum -- a mojo -- that has never been seen in baseball before. I'll go with the team that has won 20 of 21 and hasn't lost a game in the postseason. Speaking of which...

Must-Read 1: Rob Neyer, my favorite baseball analyst and writer of all time, ranks the Rockies' run as the No. 3 "miracle" in baseball history, behind the Red Sox ALCS in 2004 and DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak. That sounds about right. (h/t Postman E)

Must-Read 2: Rox' 21/22, cont'd. The WSJ's Carl Bialik* breaks down the Rockies' 21/22 in his Numbers Guy column. Fascinating read. (h/t Postman R)

(* - Carl took over managing the Varsity Letters Reading Series from me)

Tim Wakefield left off Boston's World Series roster after shoulder issues: Good news for the Rockies; he baffled Colorado earlier this season.

Rockies Tickets Snafu, Cont'd: Well, the good news is that the team worked out the kinks in the online sales system. The bad news is that I couldn't get in to buy tickets, nor could anyone I know or heard about. (So just who DID get tickets? Oh, wait: They're on StubHub and CraigsList.)

UPDATE: Rudy Giuliani comes out for the Red Sox. OK, I have been called a bandwagoneer and a fairweather fan in my time, but it cannot possibly compare to the Yankees' uber-fan Rudy Giuliani saying he will be rooting for the Red Sox in the World Series. For Yankees fans, I cannot imagine a greater treachery. You cannot claim "AL allegiance" -- not when it comes to Yankees fans and the Red Sox (or vice versa). I think Rudy should lose his Yankees cred entirely. Is this REALLY what America would want in a President?

Yankees Manager Watch: Don Mattingly interviews, and reportedly it went really well. That gives the Yankees a tough choice: Go with the nominally more experienced guy (Girardi) or the entirely green, never-managed-before (but coached for four years) popular choice (Mattingly). I think they SHOULD go with Girardi, but WILL go with Mattingly. It certainly is the bolder choice.

NFL: San Diego relocates to Arizona. It's Wednesday of game week. Where are the Chargers going to play this weekend's game against the Texans, because it sure seems like they aren't going to be able to do it in San Diego at their home stadium. Can they move the game up to L.A.? At least fans can easily get to the game; the diversion would be welcome, I'm sure.

NFL: It's official! The Draft's first round will drop from 15 to 10 minutes. It's a fantastic move; as popular as the Draft has become, its first round really dragged on too long. If the NBA can do its first round in 5 minutes per pick, I never understood why the NFL needed three times that amount. It's not like teams haven't prepped.

Pats 16-0 vs. Fins 0-16: Kudos to Fanhouse's Ryan Wilson for picking up on a Sun-Sentinel piece by David Hyde about whether the stunner this season would be less the Pats going 16-0 and more the Fins going 0-16. Either way, we're talking about history, but in the NFL's Era of Parity, it just might be more spectacular to see the Fins go 0-16, particularly given that it would be the perfect bookend to the Pats' other brand of perfection.

Must-Read: KSK understands me. I'm an unabashed fan of the guys at Kissing Suzy Kolber (wow, is this week about the depth of my many admirations, or what?). They had a post on Monday that might be my favorite post -- on any subject, on any blog -- of all time. When you read it, you'll know why. It's as if Big Daddy Drew entered my mind and made sense of it all.

Oh, and it's been mentioned in the Comments, but I should mention it here: You've got to see their take on Easterbrook's latest column, too, which is receiving some of the worst reviews of any column I have seen in a long time. (And people used to ding ME for overreaching...) UPDATE: Wow, that's quite a trick that Easterbrook pulled: He managed to unite New England sports fans and the universe of us who hate New England sports (and their sports fans). I never thought it would happen, but Easterbrook accomplished it. New England fans, I join you in your mockery of him! UPDATE 2: Actually, I find the Pats far more enjoyable when they are making the league their Gimp -- including the TD run-ups -- than before. As someone who traffics in superlatives, I can't help but root for 19-0. Because, let's face it: You hate the '72 Dolphins way more than you hate the '07 Pats.

NBA: Kevin Durant sprains his ankle and might miss the season opener, dampening one of the biggest storylines of the season. If Durant was hurt in any meaningful way, it would really spike this season's rookie-class potential, although in a rookie year that should be prefixed as "Besides Kevin Durant..." two rookies who seem ready to make an instant impact are the "Two Als": Horford (Hawks) and Thornton (Clippers).

NBA Preview: Free Darko rules. I'm ramping up my NBA season preview coverage tomorrow, but in the meantime, I want to point you to the latest series from Free Darko, which has produced what could go down as my favorite NBA gimmick of all time:

Those mad geniuses have produced a preview of EVERY SINGLE NBA PLAYER. And, seriously, they pulled it off. "Where Amazing Happens," indeed:

Here's A-F.

Here's G-O.

Bravo, fellas.

Prep Football: Hoover cheats? (Yawn.) So if you watched Hoover (Alabama) High School on "Two-a-Days" and said, "If there was ever a lock in my life, it's that this program is corrupt," collect your prize.

Sports Media: Bizarro Sports Journalism. This could become the next hot trend in sports media. Publishing the story with the opposite result of what the writer thought would happen. You know beat guys and columnists all do it, even if they just play around with an angle or a lead paragraph (and don't actually write the entire thing).

Given unlimited space on the internet, the never-ending appetite for blog content by traditional sports media and the guaranteed page views for such a sensationalized idea, I could see an entire industry being spun from this. Call it "Bizarro Sports Journalism." (So: Who's going to start the first "Bizarro" sports blog that deals entirely with the opposite of what is happening in reality?)

Last thought on the World Series: The Quickie/Shanoff Curse might just be the thing that brings the Rockies' run to a halt. If any fictitious force can do it, it's that.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

SI: Hire Deadspin's Leitch to Replace Reilly

Sports Illustrated needs to make a bold move to replace their most coveted talent, columnist Rick Reilly, who bolted for ESPN. The answer, more than mere replacement:

Hire Deadspin's Will Leitch.

I spent way too much time the past few days thinking about this wild story that Rick Reilly jumped from Sports Illustrated to ESPN. The sports-media implications are fascinating: SI's signature "name" leaving for... TV. (Although it sounds like his main focus will be simply replicating his column on the back page of ESPN the Magazine.)

Beyond the implications for ESPN, the reality is that SI needs a bold move. One is available:

SI should hire Deadspin's Will Leitch away from Gawker Media and give him the back-page column, the new lead voice of SI (including

Rick Reilly's biggest problem: His relevance has declined precipitously, as was noted at The Big Lead. If you're over 35, you might still think of him as the multiple-time "Sports Writer of the Year" and the lead "identity" of SI. (Even if you think he has lost something off his fastball.) But as someone who is perilously close to the not-so-coveted "Over-35" demographic, I can say with authority: We are hardly the target audience.

If you're under 30, if you knew who Reilly was at all (and you probably don't know or, more likely, don't care), you know Reilly as the author of those columns that -- if they didn't have Reilly's byline -- you'd wonder why editors at SI were putting warmed-over Page 2 column ideas on their back page. (The nadir: Reilly's tortured "live-blog" of the NFL Draft, which nearly offset his campaign to raise money for malaria nets, which was inspired.)

On the other hand, Will Leitch couldn't be more relevant. He launched and writes the most influential proposition in sports, a blog that not only is the center of gravity for the entire sports blogosphere, but drives a healthy portion of sports newspaper, radio and TV conversation, too.

That's precisely the kind of impact that a brand like SI needs. It needs relevancy, not with its established and aging base of magazine readers who might enjoy Reilly, but with its unestablished and young base of cross-platform consumers who do enjoy Leitch.

Yet for all of Leitch's talents as a blogger, he's an even better essayist, as anyone who has read his column series on either the NCAA Tournament or the MLB playoffs knows. Things are about to get even bigger for Leitch: His new book, "God Save The Fan," comes out early next year. I've read it. It's mind-bogglingly good; enough to establish – or, to many of us, affirm – Leitch's position as THE leading voice of the sports fan today.

I don't usually think about life after Deadspin for Leitch, but I know it has to be there. Of the "what's next" opportunities I think he would be perfect for, taking over the back page of SI would be at the top of the list: Escorting SI from the plateau of the "Reilly Era" into lockstep with the "Deadspin Era."

What makes Leitch so unique for that role is that, for all of the "Underground" populism, he is a purist at heart. He cares about sports in a way that old school guys like Reilly -- who long ago drifted into cynicism cloaked under some kind of stab at "humor" -- simply can't grasp. It's why Reilly can't connect with younger consumers anymore. Leitch combines a reverence for what made SI great with a unique empathy for today's sports fans and a unique understanding of today's sports landscape. Consequently, he can uniquely bridge the gap between SI's older consumers and its younger ones, its bygone golden era and its future.

Most of all, it is precisely the bold step that SI needs to take to stay relevant. I appreciate the Dan Patrick deal last week, but the buzz lasted all of 36 hours before the leaked Reilly story trumped it. SI will never be (or beat) ESPN, nor should it try. As sports bloggers have picked up faster than their traditional counterparts, in sports media, direct competition is overrated -- the most important thing is to serve an audience uniquely (and, hopefully, profitably):

It is better for SI to stake out its own unique voice for the next era in sports and sports fandom; who better to represent that effort that the voice who single-handedly eclipsed SI (and everyone else in traditional sports media) to become the most powerful complement to ESPN among sports fans?

It's a very simple proposition for SI Group President Mark Ford, SI Digital President Jeff Price, SI Managing Editor Terry McDonnell and Managing Editor Paul Fichtenbaum:

Replace Reilly with relevancy. Putting Will Leitch on the back page of SI every week would be a breathtakingly bold move for SI and a spectacular victory for sports fans everywhere.

(Mega-Disclosure/Caveat: Leitch is a very good friend of mine. We play in two fantasy leagues together, virtually year-round, which in this day and age is as entangled as people can get. I write a weekly guest-post on Deadspin, for which Gawker Media pays me, and I have written other posts for Leitch before. I am a huge fan of his, personally and professionally, as should be obvious. All that said: This post was written entirely independent of Leitch. He didn't know about it, and I didn't tell him I was going to post it.

Also, though it might look like I'm crushing Reilly here, by all accounts he's a fine fellow, who has built a world-class reputation at the top of the sports-media world; still occasionally manages to turn a clever phrase; who consistently and admirably lends himself to extremely worthy causes; and who even is rumored to find his way into Baton Rouge press boxes with foxy arm candy, which anyone can't help but respect. While I am not unfairly skeptical whether he can move the ratings needle at ESPN to justify his rumored multi-million dollar annual deal, I am quite sure he will find much success and happiness there. I am always in favor of bold career moves, and his certainly qualifies. I wish him well.)

Tuesday 10/23 A.M. Quickie:
Sox vs. Rox, Colts Cruise, MLB Managers, More!

Today's Names to Know: Colorado Rockies, Peyton Manning, Tony LaRussa, Joe Girardi, George Mitchell, Greg Ryan, Ronnie Brown, Jeff Jagodzinski and More!

World Series: Rox vs. Sox. What's at stake? The Rockies are attempting to close the deal on the hottest, most unprecedented finish to a season in baseball history. The Red Sox, if they win, stake their claim as the Team of the Decade.

(Longtime Quickie readers know I think that 2 titles in 4 years qualifies a team as a demi-dynasty, and 2 titles in a decade when everyone else has one qualifies a team as the Team of the Decade.)

Make no mistake: It is better for baseball and for fans everywhere if the Rockies win; the success of the Rockies gives other teams' fans hope -- all another Red Sox title does is re-affirm that he who spends the most usually wins.

Rockies ticket snafu: I was one of the 8.5 million unique users to slam the Rockies' Web site in one hour at noon ET yesterday, trying to get World Series tickets. You'd think in today's day and age, a team -- MLB Advanced Media, for gosh sakes -- would figure out that a first-time World Series appearance for the hottest team of the year in sports (yes, including the 2007 Patriots and Kansas football) might draw some interest from the locals. (Later, they said they were attacked. Yet why wouldn't they have been ready?) Actually, now that I think about it, I'm quite sure the cause of the overload came from those skeevy ticket-brokers who were trying to snap up all of the supply.

Monday Night Football: Colts thump Jags 29-7. Somehow, I don't think that the loser of a Colts-Jags blowout will go on to win the Super Bowl, as the Colts did last year. The question now is: How far apart are the Pats and Colts, by far the two best teams in the NFL. (The answer is still: Very.)

Tony LaRussa returning to the Cardinals for another two years: Now this was a bit of a surprise, given that his buddy, GM Walt Jocketty, left the team. Guess LaRussa not only liked his situation with the Cardinals (he did, after all, win a World Series with them last year), but he probably didn't like the other options out there as much. Can't blame him. Managing in St. Louis is one of the best jobs in baseball.

Yankees Manager Watch: Girardi has his interview. Given that Don Mattingly isn't ready and Tony Pena has no history with the team, I think Girardi is the right fit for this moment of Yankee history. He has the respect of the vets, but the experience managing youngsters that complements the Yankees' youth movement.

MLB PED Scandal: George Mitchell says he didn't leak the info about Paul Byrd. Do you believe him? I do, but his conflict of interest as a director of the Red Sox puts him in precisely the awkward position that we could have predicted when his investigatory role began.

Greg Ryan booted as US Women's Soccer Coach: Considering he made the managerial gaffe of the year in sports -- pulling hot goalie Hope Solo for rusty Briana Scurry -- this was an easy one to spot.

Ronnie Brown's season is over: The bad news is that, yes, the Dolphins can actually get worse. The good news for Dolphins fans is that if they keep losing, they should be in a phenomenal position to draft Arkansas' Darren McFadden, who is the second-best RB in the world RIGHT NOW, behind LaDainian Tomlinson. (Yes, D-Mac is even better than Adrian Peterson.)

NFL in London: Good thing fans in London this weekend won't know the difference between Ronnie Brown and anyone else who might replace him. More about this game later in the week.

Pro Bowl moving timing, location? Is the Pro Bowl moving to the Sunday before the Super Bowl – and away from Hawaii? Great move. The Pro Bowl has annually become the league's biggest flop, virtually its only misstep. Putting it in the open weekend before the Super Bowl – in a location NEAR the Super Bowl – will give it way more relevance.

Oh, and I was bummed to find out the league probably won't move the first round of the Draft to Friday night, but they will reduce the first round to 10 minutes per pick. (Last two items via PFT re: Mort)

California Wildfires: Are the Chargers going to have to practice and play elsewhere besides Southern California? Thoughts are with everyone in that community during this natural disaster.

CFB: From the "NOW They Tell Me" Files: The Big East acknowledged that that refs screwed up the "fair catch TD" that cost Louisville a win over UConn. Here's how they can make it up to the Cardinals and everyone else: Make "fair-catch" calls reviewable. Cripes, is that so hard?

Fantasy Football: Remember the Yahoo "celebrity" bloggers' fantasy league I was invited to play in? My team ("Worst. Name. Ever.") is getting absolutely destroyed.

Along with MJD of AOL Fanhouse, I am tied for 10th place out of 12 teams, and I am tied for 9th place in points scored. I have lost three straight games.

This past week, I had the lowest point total in the league and I was more than doubled up by the division leader, Unsilent Majority of Kissing Suzy Kolber.

Sunday, I was the subject of an email sent around to the rest of the league from With Leather's Matt Ufford: "Worst. Name. Ever. = Worst. Team. Ever." He's right:

My starting QB is a choice between Matt Schaub and Vince Young. My starting WRs are Torry Holt (a 2nd-round pick!), during the worst year in Rams history, and Ted Ginn. (Yes, Ted Ginn is my STARTER.) I had Dante Stallworth on the bench this week. And started Ted Ginn.

Worst of all, I have LaDainian Freaking Tomlinson. In previous years, LT alone would be good for playoff contention. This year, between the careful-what-you-wish-for of the No. 1 overall pick (which screws you the rest of the draft) and my pathetic personnel management, I am the dregs. It'll make my comeback that much sweeter.

(Meanwhile, I'm in the top half of the Readers League. So there's that.)

Coach of the Year Blog: It has been fun to blog about the surprising sideline successes this year in college football (I'm obviously paid by the alliterative attempts.)

But now it's time to take the gloves off: In the latest post of my guest-blog (in partnership with Liberty Mutual), I challenge the fans of worthy coaches who have so far done a horrendous job of supporting their coach.

Missing from the Top 25 voting standings: Jeff Jagodzinski of Boston College, which is only in the freaking Top 2 of the BCS. And Mark Mangino of Kansas, only the most unlikely success story of the season. Meanwhile, East Carolina fans have overrun the voting to vault Skip Holtz to the No. 2 spot (and he's been there since the first week of the season!)

Show some pride folks. Show some spirit. Show some support. Get to now and vote for the coach you think is most worthy of the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award this year.

(Full disclosure: As should be plainly evident, I am in a business relationship with Liberty Mutual and their production company to produce the blog.)

Special stand-alone post coming later this morning about Rick Reilly and the future of Sports Illustrated.

-- D.S.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday 10/22 A.M. Quickie:
BoSox, Byrd, Brady, Bironas, B.C., More!

Today's Names to Know: Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia, Paul Byrd, Tom Brady, Rob Bironas, Brian Griese, David Garrard, Boston College, Strat-O-Matic, More!

ALCS Game 7: Red Sox clobber the Indians, come back from 3-1 deficit with 3-game winning streak to take AL pennant and return to the World Series for the first time since way back in 2004. (Two World Series appearances in four years? These ain't your pappy's Red Sox.)

Congratulations to the team and to Red Sox Nation: It was gutsy as hell to be down 3-1, then win three straight games. After already claiming status as the first MLB team to come back from being down 3-0 in a series, they became only the 11th team ever to come back from being down 3-1. Big performances all around (Game 7 stud: Dustin Pedroia, who had 5 RBI), and I think Boston's big bats and suddenly virile pitching should make them the favorite in the World Series.

World Series Glimpse Ahead: Sox vs. Rox, which is catchy, if nothing else. I'll do more on the series tomorrow and Wednesday, but the ultimate question, of course, is whether the Rockies can maintain their sizzling pace, particularly after an 8-day layoff.

Based on the way they've won 21 out of their last 22, including 7 in a row in the playoffs (8 in a row if you count the Game 163 play-in), I have a hard time imagining the Rockies losing 4 of 7 games at this point. Then again, the way the Red Sox have won 3 of their last, um, 3, I can't imagine them losing either.

On paper, Colorado should get crushed. But what the Rockies are doing right now defies any sort of "paper" analysis. I have spent a lot of time out in Denver this second half of the season, and what's going on there is freaky. They don't comprehend losing anymore.

Kiss-of-Death Prediction: Rockies in 6, with Boston winning both of Beckett's starts (obviously), but losing the other games.

(On a side note: Man, it must be tough to be an Indians fan. Now there's a fan base that deserves our sympathy and our support.)

MLB PED Scandal: Add Paul Byrd to the list. His masterful performance in Game 4 of the ALCS is now the SECOND-biggest thing he is famous for, after 'fessing up to ordering HGH back during the apex of the scandal, from 2002-2005 (when, seemingly, EVERYONE was doing it).

The news cast a pall over the Indians' ALCS run, but it goes to show that HGH penetrated the core of the sport, from the selfish superstar sluggers to the devoutly religious super-likeable journeymen pitchers to the blindly ambitious minor-league rehab success stories. And, I'm sure, much more.

His money quote: "I have nothing to hide," which may be true, admirable or both. But, usually, quotes like that just end up as irony. He says he used it to treat a tumor and that a doc prescribed them. But he says he was in contact with the Indians and MLB about it, but the team and league wouldn't (or couldn't) confirm that.

NFL Wrap: The Pats just keep rolling. Just when you think they can't do anything more (like, say, going on the road and crushing the NFC's top Super Bowl contender), they take on their nemesis and absolutely obliterate them. I know the Dolphins aren't the Dolphins this season, but they weren't particularly good in previous seasons when they beat the Pats, either.

Tom Brady: 6 TDs. One week after throwing a career-high 5, he goes one better, giving him 27 for the season (in only 7 games... the single-season record is 49 by Peyton Manning). The greatest season for a QB in NFL history continues, and it will be all the more spectacular when the team goes 19-0.

My favorite part of yesterday's game was the way that Belichick brought Brady back into the game, off the bench, to throw No. 6. Between that and the last-minute TD the Pats scored against the Cowboys, which was meaningless beyond rubbing in the ass-kicking, it's clear that Belichick wants to punish the rest of the league this season.

More NFL Milestones/Fantasy Player of the Week: Rob Bironas has the greatest day ever for a kicker. He hit an NFL-record 8 field goals, including the game-winner as time expired. So: Who had Bironas on their fantasy team (and if they didn't, will he be the "most added" player of the week?)

More NFL: If there was ever reason to confirm Brian Griese as the Bears' QB, his game-winning two-minute drill without a radio signal in his helmet was the one... How many more last-second wins does Jason Elam have in his foot this season?... Cowboys back on track with a home win over Minnesota, whose sensational rookie RB Adrian Peterson was held to 63 yards, 160 fewer than a week ago (I think the Vikings should give up on this season and target a top QB in the draft to complement Peterson, say Kentucky's Andre Woodson?)... Byron Leftwich looked good in his Falcons debut (that is, until he got hurt... surprise)... Are the Dolphins going to fire first-year head coach Cam Cameron after their first 0-7 start in team history? Should they?

MNF: Colts at Jags. As a Jaguars fan (nominally), last season's blowout win over the Colts represented the best moment of the season for the Jaguars (and made the end-of-season collapse that much more painful). Not sure if the teams match up the same way this year, but this is a real test if the Jags truly are a Top 5 NFL team this year. (Not that it matters, in terms of winning a Super Bowl; the Pats have that locked up.)

CFB: Ohio State, B.C. top the BCS, with LSU at No. 3. Interestingly, the BCS computers have BC and LSU at 1-2 with Ohio State on the outside looking in. Do the PCs know something the humans don't? (Yeah: You can't let the brand name "Ohio State" blind you to things like "Who have they beaten?") By the way, BC is losing at Virginia Tech on Thursday night, just as surely as you could see South Florida's loss at Rutgers last Thursday night coming, too.

Arizona State is No. 4, and Kansas is No. 9, even though the Jayhawks have the most impressive single win of any of the five remaining unbeatens. Other details of note: Florida is the highest-ranking 2-loss team at No. 11 and Virginia has crashed the party at No. 15, on the strength of the No. 6 ranking in the computer polls.

This Week's BlogPoll Ballot (Temporary): As I mention in today's Deadspin post, putting it together was an exercise in self-loathing as I filled it out. (I'm already making changes based on reader feedback. Reader Nick questioned how I could have South Florida where I did, particularly behind USC. This is right on, especially because USF was my No. 1 team a week ago. That's a hell of a drop. I have moved them up to No. 11. That's probably still low, especially since they are a spot behind 2-loss Florida, with the Bulls beating Auburn at Auburn and the Gators losing to Auburn in Gainesville.)

NBA Scandal: Have six refs been disciplined for breaking the league's anti-gambling rules? I wouldn't doubt it, but the league and the refs' union aren't confirming anything.

Fantasy: I have a longer, stand-alone post about this for either later today or tomorrow, but I'm participating in a re-creation of the 1986 baseball season through Strat-O-Matic online, managing the Chicago Cubs. Here's a link to the league.

-- D.S.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday 10/21 (Very) Quickie

ALCS headed to a Game 7 tonight: All momentum (and a wild home-crowd advantage) is with the Red Sox. Curt Schilling came up big last night; the much-maligned JD Drew came up even bigger. Tonight: Let's see if Boston's $103 million spent on Dice-K Matsuzaka pays off. Game 7s, particularly in baseball, are among the best moments in sports. Pick: Boston.

CFB Saturday: South Florida's loss on Thursday was the big shake-up at the very top; either BC (idle) or LSU (beat No. 17 Auburn) will be in the No. 2 spot. I'm still not sure I buy "because they're undefeated" as a reason to rank ANY of the five unbeaten teams in the Top 2.

The biggest loser was the SEC: Both Kentucky and South Carolina lost, the Gamecocks most humiliatingly, at home to Vanderbilt (which most fans and experts won't see as a signal of the strength of the SEC, but rather of the weakness of South Carolina).

Oklahoma was a big loser, too: In the jockeying among 1-loss teams, you can't come up so wimpishly against a 1-win Iowa State team. Of course, that isn't as bad as Cal, which simply lost, for the second straight week.

Looking ahead, up to four unbeatens could lose in this upcoming week, starting with Boston College, which I'm predicting will lose at Virginia Tech on Thursday night (which has become THE game of the week). That means the 1-loss teams are all in play. I put three ahead of the rest: Oregon, LSU and West Virginia. We'll see if the polls bear that out.

Meanwhile, in the Heisman race, when I listed Tim Tebow at No. 2 on my preseason ballot, I was widely mocked. Now, it looks like Tebow is the front-runner, even as a sophomore in his first year of starting -- and even for a 2-loss Florida team. (Danielson said it yesterday on the TV broadcast: Tebow is Vince Young-like in his uniqueness. It's an interesting comparison that I want to dig into next week.)

-- D.S.