Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saturday 08/16 (Very) Quickie: Phelps!

Just when you think Michael Phelps can't do anything more incredible than he already has, he makes his final individual effort the most exciting, gritty finish of any race I have ever seen.

That it earned him a record-tying 7th gold added to the excitement, of course; it wouldn't have meant as much if 95 meters into his 100-meter effort, he didn't look like he was going to lose out not just on the event, but history.

Tonight: The relay medly, which should be his unprecedented 8th gold and a coronation of sorts.

Meanwhile, while Phelps exhibits dominance across an entire sport, Dara Torres remains the most intriguing individual-event storyline.

How about the way she told the other racers to back off the blocks while one of them was having swimsuit issues. Then she merely put up the best time in the semis.

And now she's going to swim the anchor leg of the 4x100 women's medley relay. The issue -- it's a half-hour after her individual final in the 50; will her body be recovered?

Switching gears: If the 100 meter sprint is the headliner of the track events, it remains to be seen who will emerge from the Jamaican pair of Bolt and Powell to take gold. Should be fun either way. (Didn't want to spoil, but it's out there enough: Tyson Gay didn't make the finals.)

MLB: So much for the Astros' win streak; they couldn't handle Brandon Webb (and his MLB-leading 18th W)... the Cubs win their 9th straight on the road... 17 wins for Cliff Lee... Matt Garza!... Francisco Liriano!... Moyer vs. Maddux was kind of awesome, for the combined age alone...

NFL: The Titans may have beaten the Raiders, but all I care about is "6 carries for 44 yards" -- Darren McFadden's stat line. Oh, and Favre plays tonight. If you care.

NBA to Europe: Jannero Pargo goes to Moscow. It ain't Dwyane Wade going to Moscow.

More later.

-- D.S.

Friday, August 15, 2008

AJ Daulerio Interviews Sean Salisbury

Really long. Really surreal. Both parts are worth your time.

Friday 08/15 A.M. Quickie:
Phelps, Nastia, Lochte, Ziegler, More

As someone who traffics in both instant history and superlatives, I'm struggling with what to do with Michael Phelps, if/when he finishes off his 8-for-8 performance this weekend.

Greatest Olympian ever? More than arguably.
Greatest athlete ever? Hmm...yikes. I'd say so, but I'm particularly shallow.

What is the appropriate superlative for Phelps: Better at his sport than any other athlete has ever been in their particular sport? It's a mouthful, but probably more accurate than G.A.E.

It's just too much apples-to-oranges: Phelps vs. Thorpe. Phelps vs. Owens. Phelps vs. Jordan. Phelps vs. Woods.

That particular argument might not even hold up: OK, so Phelps had 8 gold medals -- Spitz had 7. Is it THAT much better? (Given the competitiveness of today's landscape, most likely yes.)

Anyway, this is what we'll be considering after tomorrow, when Phelps goes 8-for-8 in golds (and probably 8-for-8 in world records) -- and that doesn't even count that he'll compete in 2012.

Here are the upshots, as I noted in the column: Isn't it incredible that we're even having this discussion? And don't you kind of want to know you're watching the greatest ever?

There's tons more in the SN column today: More Olympics, MLB (Ziegler finally gives up a run!), NFL Preseason (Toronto Bills are unbeatable!), the Mike/Mad Dog divorce and more.

More later. Don't forget to sign up for the football Pick 'Em challenges. (See post below.)

-- D.S.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

CFB/NFL Pick 'Em Challenge: DQ Readers!

It's that time of year: Sign up for the College Football Pick 'Em. As usual, the group name is Daily Quickie Readers and it's open to anyone. Sign up now! (And here's an NFL Pick 'Em group, too: Same name -- Daily Quickie Readers. No password needed, open to all. Oh, and this year WITH the spread.)

So The Chinese Gymnast Was Only 14?

My reaction remains: So what? OK, so it breaks the "rules." But if they'll let that David Archuleta-like British diver compete at 14, it seems ludicrous to restrict gymnasts.

Again, it's very simple: IF you're good enough to compete at the highest level, there shouldn't be any age restriction. That goes for basketball, football and baseball, too, by the way.

Facebook Fantasy Football Via Jeff Ma

Jeff Ma is one of the smartest guys in online sports (and personally a great guy, too). I thought ProTrade was really cool, but when it didn't get the traction it was expected to, Ma pivoted the company as Citizen Sports -- focusing on the intersection of sports and social media. Sure, I could declare myself a fan of my favorite team via Facebook (one of their offerings), but the real potential is in interactive fantasy sports. Ma partnered up with (which desperately needed a fantasy footprint -- and the cachet of Facebook is a strategically valuable bonus). Good pick-up in USA Today about it. Definitely tracking... -- D.S.

UPDATE: Interesting celebrity-league opportunity here for one fan, too.

Thursday 08/14 A.M. Quickie:
Phelps, Lochte, Toronto, LeBron, More

I think I am more into these Olympic swimming events than I was into the past, oh, decade of individual NFL or MLB or NBA seasons.

First of all, the broadcast last night was so Phelps-heavy -- despite the fact that he wasn't swimming in a final -- that I actually felt "Phelps fatigue" (Hmm: "Phelps Phatigue?"), perhaps even a backlash. That's the lead of today's SN column.

I love Phelps, but NBC is a little out-of-control. Everything was framed in terms of Phelps. Chris Collinsworth actually asked Jason Lezak if he primarily felt good about the 4x100 anchor leg because it helped Phelps earn another gold.

Cripes: As dominant as Phelps has been, Lezak's performance was more dramatic than any of Phelps'. To his credit, Lezak shut that down, politely-ish. I wouldn't have blamed him if he had said:

"Oh, go eff yourself, Collinsworth. Why are you even here? Football isn't an Olympic sport. Why don't you keep creepily snuggling up to Michael Phelps' mom -- 'a real man wouldn't shoplift the pootie from a single mom' -- and leave the swimming analysis to someone else."

Um, too harsh?

Yes, Phelps is THE story of the Olympics. He is shattering records and doing what no Olympian has ever done. We get it: He's the greatest Olympian of all time (and he's not even finished -- slated to compete in London in 2012). He might even be the greatest athlete of all time.

The worst is the way that Bob Costas and others continue to pimp the theory that Phelps cared more about his medal count than his team's win in the 4x100 freestyle relay.

On the contrary, what made it even more dramatic was precisely because Phelps didn't seem to care AT ALL about his own medal total -- he cared entirely about the team. Compare his reaction to the relay result to any of his individual events.

To present the signature image of the games Phelps' arms-out primal scream/muscular pose as a proxy for his individual success is to hijack the incredibly sincere, team-oriented (and country-oriented) moment that really defined these Games.

I'm rooting for Phelps. I want to see him win 8 golds, breaking WRs every time along the way. I want nothing more than to argue he's the greatest athlete of all time. I understand that it's easy for NBC to put a single face on the Games this year. But Phelps is not bigger than the Games.

Meanwhile, Ryan Lochte has the most monstrous challenge that any athlete has to face in the Games: Facing down Aaron Peirsol (arguably the greatest men's backstroke swimmer ever) in the 200 back, then 30 minutes later, facing down Phelps (the greatest all-around swimmer ever) in the 200 IM.

Lochte actually has a good shot at beating Phelps -- perhaps even beating Peirsol. But if he swims in the first race, there is no way that he beats Phelps in the second.

Phelps losing to Lochte would be the most startling moment of these Games. I'm not even sure that people won't be rooting against Lochte, who has the bad timing to be peaking in his career at the same moment as the greatest swimmer ever. Without Phelps, Lochte could be unreal.

Yes, I am suggesting that if Lochte wants to truly embody the Olympic spirit, he'll drop out of the 200 back and concentrate on upending Phelps in the 200 IM. (If Lochte swims in the 200 back yet beats Phelps in the 200 IM anyway, I take this all back and Lochte will rise to near-Phelpsian levels of awe.)

Again: Yes, I am really into the swimming events.

What: Like you want me to comment on Favre's arm fatigue instead? Phelps fatigue is so much more interesting, wouldn't you say?

I want to know if any Bills fans out there are very very very nervous about tonight's game in Toronto, and it has nothing to do with the Steelers. Don't think that they won't move the team.

Is Mo Williams really the missing piece for the Cavs? Shoals makes an interesting point: He could be the missing piece that keeps LeBron in Cleveland -- but that meme was bound to pop up after these past 6 weeks of "LeBron is as good as gone." Not sure about that, but I'm sure it gives some comfort to Cavs fans.

Finally, I just have to say that it no longer looks crazy that one game into the NL careers of both CC Sabathia and Manny Ramirez, I was touting them as potential Cy and MVP candidates in their leagues. If both keep playing like they did last night -- and their teams both make the playoffs -- I think it's a no-brainer. The only thing keeping it from happening is the delicate sensibilities of the NL beat writers who vote on the awards.

More later. Full SN column here. No, it is not the same as what I have just written.

UPDATE: Yes, I intentionally left out any reference to that weightlifter injury, which is -- correctly and in a way that I totally approve of -- being labeled the Worst. Sports Injury. Ever.

UPDATE: Much like Coach K during the Olympics, I totally and needlessly neglected Michael Redd in the SN column when talking about the Bucks' core group after the trade: Redd, Bogut, Jefferson -- with Joe Alexander a potential star and, frankly, Ramon Sessions as one of the NBA's most under-the-radar potential break-out stars.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Revisiting My Ohio State Conspiracy Theory

Remember that post two weeks ago suggesting that Ohio State could lose at USC and still find themselves in the national championship game after voters (cough! Herbstreit!) lobby for a rematch?

BCS guru Brad Edwards has at least a little anecdotal evidence to suggest we all have something to fear -- but other evidence that there is Buckeyes fatigue. Extra points for manufacturing a BCS debate in early August. Even I have to tip my cap to that one. -- D.S.

CFB Previews: Trip In Way-Back Machine

I filled out my first preseason BlogPoll Top 25 (more on that tomorrow). In reading that Chris Low piece on about Tim Tebow, I happened to come across this Mark Schlabach Hot/Hot list for College Football in 2008. It reminded me of this -- I was a handsome man...once.

USA Hoops Still Could Be USA Oops

Must-read from TrueHoop's Henry Abbott on the '92 Dream Team vs. the '08 Redeem Team.

It hits on something that has been plaguing USA Hoops at least since 2004 and seems to even today: They continue to run USA Basketball as a marketing initiative first, an a winning product second (even with the 3-year commitment and other various modifications).

If they truly put together the team most likely to win in international competition, it would have a much different make-up -- fewer superstars, more guys whose games translate. For god's sake: Jump-shooters. And the fact that their best jumpshooter -- Redd -- sits on the bench most of the game speaks volumes.

They should win gold, regardless. Unfortunately, a gold won't help fix the institutional issues. All it will do is enable the existing philosophy to thrive -- right up until the next iteration of USA Basketball loses in 2012. The rest of the world is only getting better.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 08/13 A.M. Quickie:
Phelps, Hoff, AL East, Iguodala, More

OK, so at this point, the question isn't whether Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all time, but if Phelps will finish these Olympic Games as considered the greatest athlete of all time, period.

That's the lead of today's SN column, and I don't think the superlative is misplaced.

Meanwhile, Katie Hoff continues a string of disappointing finishes. Given that she finished 4th, waited an hour, then finished 4th again, is she too over-scheduled to compete at this level?

Speaking of this level, I can't get worked up over the underlying allegations that China is using underaged gymnasts -- underfed, yes. But underaged? Well, consider that plenty of folks questioned how old LeBron James and Greg Oden were when they were in high school. (Hmm: Nobody questioned Chris Drury's age. You connect the dots.)

Actually, if anything, I don't understand why it's OK for that 14-year-old British diver to compete, but it's not OK for a 14- or 15-year-old gymnast to compete. I say: If you're good enough to make the Olympics, it doesn't matter what age you are. (It's like the NBA: If you're good enough to play in the NBA at 18, you shouldn't be kept out by an age limit.) If nowhere else, shouldn't the Olympics be the ultimate meritocracy?

Meanwhile, you can see it coming: The Rays are on the precipice of folding (Longoria out with the broken wrist; Crawford out for the rest of the season), while the Red Sox are surging, winning games that can be labeled the wildest of the year in MLB. David Ortiz produces more points than Matt Cassel. I think we'll look back at yesterday as the Day the Rays Began Their Collapse. I hope I'm wrong.

Oh, and today is Madden 09 release day. I usually don't get too excited: I have a Wii and, historically, I'm atrocious at Madden. (I prefer the CFB '09 anyway, and the streamlined gameplay of Wii version is just my speed and highly recommended if you're a casual Wii gamer, like me.)

But I absolutely recognize that today has become, for many, a virtual sports national holiday -- in the Quickie two years ago (oh, in those glorious final-month throes before it ended), I argued that "Madden Day" was the biggest single sports weekday of the year, behind only the first two days of the NCAA Tournament. (New Year's Day, if it falls on a weekday, doesn't count.)

For those of you who care about Madden, enjoy the holiday.

Complete SN column here.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do August Injuries Affect Preseason Top 25?

So given the injuries in the past week to USC QB Mark Sanchez and Georgia LT Trinton Sturdivant, it begs an interesting question:

If you create your Top 25 rankings based on who the best team is right now -- not who will be No. 1 at the end of the season -- do the coaches and media have to adjust their rankings to account for these injuries, even before a game is played?

Is USC really a Top 3 team without Sanchez? Probably not. Is Georgia the No. 1 team without a key O-lineman? Arguably not. How about Florida without an NFL-caliber TE? Potentially.

The fact is: Georgia is not the same team without Sturdivant; USC is not the same team without Sanchez. Even without knowing the severity of their injuries (but presuming they miss at least the first week of the season, as is presumed with Sanchez), you have to change your preseason poll.

It certainly highlights how ludicrous the preseason poll is. (I personally make my preseason poll based on how I think they'll end the season, then adjust it after the first week based on on-field performance.)

But it is intellectually bankrupt (a not-uncommon quality among the AP, Coaches and Harris pollsters) not to re-do their preseason poll. We don't know how the teams will perform on the field, but we know how important the injured players are.

If we're ranking based on what we know -- rather than what we project for the end of the season -- I think that Ohio State vaults both Georgia and USC as the No. 1 team in the country. Until we actually start seeing some games on the field -- or they suffer their own major preseason injury.

-- D.S.

Floor Burn Tournament Reaches Round 2

Love this. Check it out and vote.

Tuesday 08/12 A.M. Quickie:
Rodgers, Phelps, Coughlin, Piersol, More

Names you'll want to know today: Aaron Rodgers, Michael Phelps, Adam Dunn, Angola.

Aaron Rodgers preseason debut as "QB1" for the Packers was a nice change-of-pace from Favre Mania. And you know what? Rodgers wasn't bad. It's hard to account for preseason performances, but he didn't embarrass himself out there, which is the first step toward acceptance. The expectations were likely so low that anything better than "sucking" would be a good start.

Rodgers' debut actually bumped the Olympics and the Phelps Watch -- which is like the Favre Watch, only enjoyable -- in the lead of today's SN column.

But Phelps is no less captivating: His WR performance in the 200 free was astonishing, given his (and USA Swimming's) recent history in the event. He just crushed it.

More interesting was Natalie Coughlin's 100 back. I'm no expert, but I could still tell she was off to an amazing start -- she JUST held on, and her face showed it. It's like a Costanzan leave-em-on-a-high-note strategy: "Thanks for the gold, folks. I'm outta here!" (She'll compete more, but this one was the biggie, going against Coventry.)

Aaron Piersol was simply awesome: He's not enormous like Grevers or the Ultimate Swimming Machine like Phelps. He seems relatively normal. He's just the world's best backstroke swimmer.

All that pushes the Adam Dunn trade down, but it is no less interesting than if it had been made a few weeks ago. (It's interesting to see a trade involving a productive player like Dunn happening after the deadline. Where were the strategic waiver blocks? Someone explain that to me.)

Last thing to mention this morning: It remains to be seen how bad this injury is to Georgia's LT, Trinton Sturdivant, but given the strength of that O-line -- for Moreno and for Stafford -- it could be a BCS-breaker. Between that and the Sanchez injury, Ohio State is looking very very strong right now.

Hmm: More on that later today. Full SN column here.

-- D.S.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mike Vick to Play in United Football League?

This Vick-to-UFL rumor has a lot of intrigue -- and it's an obvious fit for the UFL, if they want a single-star marketing hook to launch the league.

But let me reiterate that any "minor" pro football league that strives to be successful needs to have a single simple policy, doubling as a marketing hook: No age restrictions.

-- D.S.

Monday 08/11 A.M. Quickie:
Phelps, 4x100, Rays, Ryan, More

Wow, that 4x100 freestyle final last night was just about the most exciting sports event I have ever experienced. You don't have to care about swimming to have appreciated it; you don't have to respect Michael Phelps to know his celebration was THE moment of the Olympics. (Today's SN column leads with that.)

Here are the various qualities that were in play, any one of which alone would have made this race notable: Rivalry, star power, uncertainty (even underdog status) going into it (along with trash-talk from the rival), dramatic comeback, insanely close finish, over-the-top emotional celebration, records smashed and history made.

Combined? Wow.

Everything else, by comparison, comes across as kind of ordinary: Katie Hoff's loss in the 400 free should have been huger (same with Brendan Hansen's humiliation in the 100 breast). USA Oops' romp over China was barely a blip. I cannot for the life of me understand gymnastics' scoring system. What makes swimming (and track) so universally appealing is that you've got competitors, a finite goal and a clock. It may not be enough to get folks to watch any more frequently than quadrennially, but when it comes up, it sure is fun.

Meanwhile, let's not overlook that the Rays set a franchise record for wins, and it's only August 11. (God, it's going to be deflating if they don't make the playoffs.) Brandon Webb moved to 17 wins; Cliff Lee advanced to 16.

In the NFL, let's talk less about Brett Favre's penalty lap and more about whether Matt Ryan is ready to take over as a starting QB for the Falcons right now.

And in college football, UCLA QB Ben Olson's injury (foot, two months) might be more drastic than USC QB Mark Sanchez (at least the 1st game, but I wouldn't put it past USC to keep his status VERY close to the vest, particularly with the OSU game coming in September).

More later; complete SN column here. My biggest question about the Olympics is: How do you top what happened in the 4x100 last night? For sheer value in the moment, I'm not sure it can be topped. Obviously, Phelps' quest for 8 golds will build over the next 6 days -- this race last night was the one most in question on that. But for jump-off-the-couch value, this was as good as it gets.

-- D.S.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday 08/10 (Very) Quickie

Olympics: Michael Phelps is absolutely ridiculous, as anyone who watched his WR-setting 400 IM would agree. (In the other must-see, Dara Torres helped the US 4x100 free group rally for silver.)

NFL: Matt Ryan's debut -- 9/15 for 113 yds and 1 TD... Favre Watch: Favre will start in the Jets' next game... Steelers eyeing Leftwich or Culpepper to replace Batch?

MLB Playoff-Worthy Weekend Results: Cards clock Cubs behind Glaus... Angels crush Yankees behind 8-run 8th... Dice-K earns 13th W with Red Sox W over White Sox (Twins win; move half-game up)... D-Rays keep pace with win in 11... Mets d. Marlins (keep pace with Phils)...

Hot rumor: Manny wants to sign with the Yankees this offseason, specifically so he can try to crush the Red Sox 19 games a year. I don't doubt it. But will he give the Yanks a hometown discount?

Barry Bonds returns to S.F.: "I haven't retired." Perhaps his warm reception by Giants fans will give a playoff team the permission necessary to do the competitively smart thing and sign him.

NBA: Dwyane Wade jumps on the "$50 Million to play in Europe" bandwagon. This is no longer an interesting story, because the question to every player is "Would you consider playing in Europe for $50 million?" and the answer, always, is "Who wouldn't?"

Then it's a "story" but it's really not, as it's not like $50 million European offers are there for everyone. (That said, China should make three separate $50 million offers to LeBron, Kobe and Wade, just to see what happens.)

CFB: Looks like USC QB Mark Sanchez won't be out for the season, but perhaps only a game. However, that Ohio State game comes quickly -- how much will it impact the Trojans to have a gimpy and/or out-of-practice QB?

-- D.S.