Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturday 12/27 (Very) Quickie

Well, Tom Brady proposed to Gisele. You can all sleep better now, because I know it was keeping you awake. For a guy who had a truly crappy 2008 - between losing in the Super Bowl to missing virtually all of the 2008 season -- he still managed to be one of the year's biggest winners, with this news. (Say, I wonder what kind of Christmas he had with his, um, baby son?)

Wow, what happened to the Celtics?
It's like the win streak was all leading up to the Lakers game, then when they lost that, they lost a core motivation...

Randy Johnson signs with the Giants: 3 Cy winners in one rotation? You almost have to wonder when they're going to convince Greg Maddux to come out of retirement...

Florida Atlantic beats Central Michigan in the Motor City (aka "Bailout") Bowl: Name to know? FAU QB Rusty Smith, who we might see playing on Sundays.

(Speaking of QBs having good bowl performances, I was called out in the comments recently for not praising Jimmy Clausen -- I should have. He had a monster game. I could say that he was finally living up to the hype and that the bowl game should vault him to a monster season in '09, but he's still being coached by Charlie Weis, right? Also: Brady Quinn. Let's just remember that.)

Heat beat Bulls in post-Xmas hangover game: It was billed as Rose vs. Beasley, but Dwyane Wade (of course) stole the show. And if you had to pick out the most impressive rookie in the game, couldn't you make a case for Heat 2nd-round pick Mario "Superintendent" Chalmers? Without question, the steal of the draft, making plenty of GMs look foolish for passing on him.

T'wolves beat the Knicks: I actually watched a lot of this game (for some reason), and perhaps the Knicks should consider acquiring Sebastian Telfair, because he had a fantastic game in his MSG homecoming.

I also ended up watching some replay of the Isle of Palms high school hoops tournament, from earlier this week, and I happened to luck into seeing Austin Rivers (Doc's son, who was a very early verbal commitment to Florida) of Winter Park (Fla.) H.S., who scored 40-something en route to a tournament win. I also caught a bit of St. Patrick's (NJ) vs. Mater Dei (CA) -- two of the top teams in the country. I couldn't stay up for the whole thing, but St. Pat's looked very good. (They ended up losing to Mater Dei, which stakes its claim as the best team in the country.)

-- D.S.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday 12/26 (Very) Quickie

Well, that Celtics-Lakers game lived up to the hype. The atmosphere was crazy, Pau Gasol scored out of his mind down the stretch and the Lakers snapped the C's 19-game win streak.

Now, like all sports except college football, the win really didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, except symbolically -- that the Lakers ARE ready to challenge Boston for the NBA title.

Kobe's quote says it all: "It's our year." I'm betting that by June, the Celtics have something to say about that. (Will it all come down to who has home-court advantage in the Finals?)

Meanwhile, Suns-Spurs was the best game of the day -- that Roger Mason 3 was tremendous. As a Wiz fan, I am torn about Mason's success, knowing the Wiz could have kept him. (Their first indication they should have should have been that the Spurs wanted him at all.)

Speaking of the Wiz, they put out their standard effort: Great play for 3+ quarters, then folding late. This might have been the worst loss yet -- this was the Wizards' Finals game, the chance to ruin Christmas on national TV for LeBron and Co.

And the Wiz were up 7 in the final minutes, before allowing the Cavs to run off 11 straight in the final 90 seconds to win the game. Mo Williams (24 pts) put on a display why he was the Best Move of the Offseason in the NBA.

The Magic led off the day with a statement win: They throttled the Hornets, who seemed right away like they would have rather been at home celebrating the holiday than playing basketball. Even Chris Paul was shut down -- no steals for the first time forver, snapping his streak at 108.

As I mentioned, I was down in Orlando last Thursday/Friday, and in talking casually with a couple of fans down there, they expressed the feeling that if it wasn't for the amazing start by the Celtics (and Cavs), the Magic's start would be one of THE stories of the season. But it feels buried.

Bowling tonight: Central Michigan vs. Florida Atlantic. Ehhh...pass. Although I'm always up for a chance to watch CMU QB Dan LeFevour.

NBA Today: Bulls vs. Heat. Rose vs. Beasley. (More like Rose vs. Wade.) Oh, and please go to and vote for Joe Alexander as the 4th contestant in the Dunk Contest.

MLB Hot Stove: Derek Lowe to the Mets happening or scuttled? Or just delayed? Does anyone really think he's the missing piece?

More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thursday 12/25 (Very Merry) Quickie

Merry Christmas, everyone. I am on my Nth viewing of "A Christmas Story"...

It's your average slow Christmas morning, but there are a couple of hot-button issues on the table:

(1) Yankees spend big, the 2nd-day revisionism: Was the big spend THAT bad? In fact, was it GOOD for baseball? It depends on how you see the Yankees. Do they say:

"WE are the Yankees." Or do they say:

"We are the YANKEES."

The former implies they are spending for spending's sake; the latter implies, as team prez Randy Levine argued yesterday, that the health of the Yankees is directly tied to the health of baseball. And that spending to make them a contender is good for all of baseball.

He's got a point: The Yankees draw a crowd on the road, boosting other teams' attendance. They drive TV ratings. They actually pay other teams to spend prolifically. Do the Brewers really want a salary cap when they earn so much money directly from the Yankees' spending?

And though the Yankees make a ton of money -- they spend it on the team. Not always wisely, but they spend it on putting out a competitive product. Because it's in the best interests of baseball. Not to CURB the Yankees' spending, but to embrace it.

And I say that as someone who hates the Yankees.

Staying in New York: We can all agree that Brett Favre's latest "Am I retiring or aren't I?" crap is wearying as ever. Let's hope that this season is his last -- although those of us who are Favre-haters are enjoying his INT-fueled implosion to end the season.

But even if he does retire this season, do you actually think that would be it? Or would he take a season (or even half a season) off, then make some sort of glorified "return" to the NFL? After all, he is still a "Pro Bowler" (cough...laughter...cough...)

(3) Notre Dame wins a bowl game...finally! And they won big. And they did it with Charlie Weis in the coaching box calling plays, rather than on the sidelines. And here's what we learned: Charlie Weis should stay up in the coaching box -- not as a head coach, but in his best an offensive coordinator. Unfortunately, last night's win will silence the doubters... at least until he returns to the sidelines and his ill-fitting role as college head coach. (ND is very lucky they were playing Hawaii, with that porous defense.)

(4) Christmas Day in the NBA, as I have said all week, is the NBA's biggest day of the year. They own sports on TV today. And they loaded it up with an incredible slate of games: Chris Paul vs. Dwight Howard; Shaq, Amare and Nash vs. Duncan, Parker and the Spurs; Lakers-Celtics (of course... even a casual NBA fan will likely tune in for that one, especially given the Celtics' insane winning streak); and ending with Cavs-Wiz, where LeBron Worship will reach new levels when the entire arena throws chalk up in the air before the game, in the offputtingly messianic style that LeBron showcases before every game -- here's a prediction: FAIL.

(Oh: Anyone else see the irony of Steve Francis traded from the Rockets to the Grizzlies? I wonder how Stevie Franchise's career would have gone if he had just stayed with the Grizzlies when they originally drafted him?)

More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

List: My Top Sports Books of 2008

Just in time for the holidays, it's time for my annual year-end Best Sports Books of the Year list.

Here is what I know: This may or may not turn out to be the best year ever for sports bloggers publishing books, but it was certainly the best and biggest of the Internet Era so far.

The apex of sports blogging -- arguably -- in 2007 yielded a couple of very high-profile book deals; we finally saw those books published in 2008, and they delivered:

God Save The Fan (Will Leitch): Coda of the most influential sports writer of the decade. (Out in paperback next month.)

Men With Balls (Drew Magary): Bawdy and brilliant, just like KSK and his other online work.

The Macrophenomenal NBA Almanac (Free Darko): The essays are typically terrific, but the real genius is in the book's design.

(And John Gasaway and Ken Pomeroy joined the esteemed "Prospectus" annual rotation with their insightful "College Basketball Prospectus" season preview.)

That's not to say there weren't several notable books produced by "mainstream sports media's" finest:

A Few Seconds of Panic (Stefan Fatsis): My favorite "traditional" book of the year, this was a gripping, fascinating read about a guy like you or me in the NFL -- or, more specifically, at its margins.

Big Book of Baseball Legends (Rob Neyer): The latest in Neyer's "Big Book" series, it might be my favorite and his most accessible. Rob is the original online sports columnist -- I was torn by his recent admission into the Baseball Writers Association of America.

I'm sure there were others. And, for one more year, my own book goes unpublished. (I know I've got it in me! Ahh: Maybe '09.)

Put any recommendations of your own in the Comments.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Wow, how could I forget Tom Farrey's remarkable and provocative "Game On!" Loved that book, by my longtime friend and ESPN colleague.

Wednesday 12/24 A.M. Quickie:
Teixeira, TCU, Portland St, Celtics, Plax

UPDATE: I cannot believe I missed Festivus yesterday. I hang my head in shame. Add it to your "Airing of Grievances" about me from this past year that I'm sure happened yesterday.

I have been using this line for months. Now, for the last time, because at this point the phrase has been stretched -- by the Yankees -- to its bleeding edge of reason:

What recession?

The Yankees are making a mockery that we're in a recession/depression/whatever-it-is. I think Hal and Hank Steinbrenner should be named co-Secretaries of Treasury, because they obviously know something that we don't, and it involves massive spending:

It is the Yankees' own version of an economic stimulus package.

One non-playoff season and the team goes absolutely crazy: $140M for Sabathia. $85M for Burnett. Now $180M for Teixeira.

Overreaction much? What happened to last season's plan to implement financial restraint?

Instead, the Yankees have catapulted themselves into a previously unknown stratosphere of payroll spending, not just in baseball, but in all of team sports.

Meanwhile, what a surprise: All we heard was Red Sox-Nats-Orioles-Angels... so much for the crackerjack reporting by the legion of mainstream baseball reporters out there. It's the biggest signing of the offseason, and fans had no heads-up about it. You know? I actually like being surprised. Too much news in sports is a fait d'accompli.

Sure hope they win a championship from all this. I'd hate to see what would happen if they didn't.

(Actually, no I wouldn't. And I think most of us can agree that we are much more intrigued by what would/will happen if they DO miss the playoffs or miss a championship than if they win the World Series.)

Just in time for Christmas: What recession?

All we need to see now is the Yankees signing Manny for a short 2-3 year deal and everything about the Yankees Economic Stimulus Package will be complete.

(And, yet: The Yankees are doing one of the best promotions of 2009. For the April 3-4 exhibition series against the Cubs opening the Stadium, bleacher seats will be a quarter and grandstand seats will be $1.10, the price they were when Yankee Stadium first opened. Yeah, good luck getting your hands on those...)

Poinsettia Bowl: TCU grinds down Boise State. If you watched the first quarter of the TCU-Boise State game, you would have seen Boise in control -- maybe you would have even thought about how high the Broncos could end up in the polls. Then TCU did what they do best: They wore 'em down. They kept it close. They played amazing D. They won the game.

And now TCU stakes its claim as the best non-BCS team in the country -- with only a close loss to Utah ruining its season (UPDATE: Oh, and Oklahoma...I had forgotten, maybe because I don't consider Oklahoma to be on the radar as a great team...jokes!). If Utah gets blown out by Alabama, would you jump TCU over the team that beat them?

For Boise State, they were barely on the wrong end of a spirited effort, keeping them from an unbeaten season and a claim that they should have been in a BCS-level bowl. But I'd say that both Boise State and TCU proved that they are BCS-quality teams. TCU will make the Top 10 in my final Top 25 rankings. Boise St won't drop far.

(Bowling tonight: Notre Dame vs. Hawaii. Pass. I've got a date with Chinese food and "A Christmas Story." With 9 straight bowl losses on their record, Notre Dame can't do much worse. When their offensive coordinator was hired yesterday to coach Miami-Ohio, I found that curious: Wasn't ND's offense this year horrible? Eh: Must have been Weis's fault. I fully support the hiring -- anyone who was the recruiting coordinator at Texas is OK by me. Um: Gene Chizik wasn't the recruiting coordinator when he was there, was he?)

Portland State shocks Gonzaga in Spokane: Know the name -- Jeremiah Dominguez, a 5-foot-6 senior for PSU who just lit up the Zags. He scored 25 points, including an eye-popping 7/10 on 3s. (Great detail: Because of weather issues, Portland State got to the game only 3 hours early and didn't have a shootaround.)

More road goodness: Butler beats Xavier in Cincinnati, which would have been a nice-sized upset to discuss today -- if not for Portland State. (By the way, that's 2 losses in a row for 2 teams that I was demonstrably in the tank for this season. And that doesn't even count Louisville -- my preseason pick to win it all -- losing to Minnesota on Saturday.)

Even more: Wisconsin may not be as good as they have been in years past -- and Texas could be better (even better than the Durant or Augustine teams of the past 2 seasons) -- but Madison is still a hell of a tough place for an opposing team to win. After losing to Michigan State on Saturday in Texas, the Longhorns return the favor in Big Ten country.

Speaking of Big Ten hotness this season (which Wisco wasn't able to hold up), Illinois thumped Missouri last night in the Braggin Rights game in St. Louis. Illinois has owned Mizzou in this series recently, but it's another sign of just how unexpectedly strong the Big Ten is this season.

Celtics win 19th in a row: They have done it so seemingly effortlessly that you forget that they have just accomplished something that no other Celtics team -- not the Cousy/Russell dynasty of the 60s, not the Bird dynasty of the 80s -- was able to do. They are so focused. Tomorrow's game against the Lakers can/should/will be epic.

Full slate of NBA last night: The Lakers seem to be back on track (beating the Hornets), just in time for tomorrow's game against the C's... The Cavs still haven't lost at home (beat the Rockets behind LeBron's 27-9-5, all leading the team)... Yes, that was Rodney Stuckey scoring 40; meanwhile, an injured AI went without a made FG for only the 2nd time in his career... Triple-double for Joe Johnson (20-11-11)... Buzzer-beater: Devin Harris, leading the Nets over the Pacers... God, the Wizards are truly terrible.

Plaxico Update: It actually gets worse! Cops found a cache of weapons and ammo at Burress's house. He is so screwed.

Lance Armstrong is going to have a big 2009: He isn't just going to race in the Tour de France, but he is going to have a baby with his girlfriend, Anna Hansen. Why do I think Lance can afford to hire the help to let him avoid the overnight wake-up fussiness (what? oh, wait: I meant "amazingness") that is new fatherhood.

More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday 12/23 A.M. Quickie:
Bears, NBA Xmas, Bolts-Broncs, Okla, More

So today was my final SN column of the holiday week -- expect expanded coverage here the rest of the week (for those of you still checking your favorite blogs over the holiday).

As such, the column previewed the week ahead:

Was it too much to say that the Broncos are headed for the worst choke-job in NFL history? The gold standard is that 1992 Wild Card game (held in Jan '93) between the Bills and Oilers.

In a way, this is worse: It's not just a collapse in a single half; it's a collapse over the final 3 games of the season. At the same time, the Chargers have had to rally from 4-8 -- if they make the playoffs, that alone is a first. It's not a sexy game, necessarily, but it's as meaningful as it gets in the NFL regular season.

Meanwhile, Bears fans who made it through that frozen OT win last night will probably unthaw this morning feeling good -- but not great. In addition to winning at Houston next week, the Bears need to see the Vikings lose to the Giants... and the Giants have nothing to play for except health of their starters, which means don't expect much more than exhibition-style tuning.

Also this week: The NBA on Christmas Day, which has become an annual tradition on par with the NFL on Thanksgiving and college football on New Year's Day. I'd argue that Thursday's slate of games is as compelling a quadruple-header as the league has ever produced. Celtics-Lakers may set a new high for TV ratings, certainly in the Internet Era.

The college bowls this week are fairly weak -- except tonight: Boise State vs. TCU, in a battle of two teams worthy of the Top 10, two of the Top 3 non-BCS teams, a fantastic offense (Boise) vs. a fantastic D (TCU), and a certain Top 10 finish for the winner (and, if it's Boise State, an unbeaten season). Should be an absolutely awesome game.

College hoops this week is also fairly weak -- tonight's Missouri-Illinois Bragging Rights game is the best of the week. The way the Big Ten is playing right now, don't be surprised if Illinois wins. Is there anything more surprising this season than the success of the Big Ten?

Complete column here. More later. I spent the last 2 days driving from Gainesville to New York City, so there was much time to contemplate.

-- D.S.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday 12/22 A.M. Quickie:
Giants, Titans, AFC West, AFC East, Lions

Wow, now that was a great day of NFL. It's really too bad I spent the entire day on the road traveling. Today's SN column can be found here, and it's loaded:

*AFC West: Denver's chokery sets up a Week 17 playoff game.
*AFC East: Schadenfavre AND the Pats don't control their own destiny!
*NFC East: The Eagles totally ruined a perfectly good Cowboys disaster scene.

And that doesn't even consider the top two teams in each conference -- the Giants and Titans -- coming up with HUGE wins over their leading conference rivals.

*God, won't someone please stop the Celtics?
*Southern Miss WR injury: Yeesh.
*Manny to the Yankees today or tomorrow?

Sorry for the short post this morning. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday 12/21 (Very) Quickie

I could complain about the weather in the Northeast ruining my travel plans today, but then I think about Cowboys fans and I realize things could be so much worse.

Dallas fans have no one to blame but their own team -- they controlled their own destiny, then let the Ravens come in and close down their stadium, literally running them over.

The Cowboys' D -- so good a week ago -- was porous when it counted most. Romo TD pass? McGahee TD for 77 on the very next play. Another Romo TD pass? McClain TD for 82 on the very next play. The Ravens wanted it more -- a tough indictment, as Dallas was playing for its playoff life.

Now, Dallas has to go to Philly and beat the Eagles in the season finale, when the Eagles are playing as well or better than any other team in the NFC -- with their own playoff fate on the line. Even then, both the Cowboys and the Eagles could need help.

(Meanwhile, the Ravens control their own destiny -- all they have to do is beat the Jaguars in Baltimore next week and they are in. That makes the AFC East race that much more insane, because it looks like only the division champ will make the playoffs from that group of three.)

College Hoops Amazingness: Of the great batch of games on the slate, who would have guessed that the most intriguing result would come when Minnesota -- still unbeaten -- beat No. 9 Louisville?

UConn-Gonzaga lived up to its billing: An OT thriller with the Huskies coming back from 11 down with 12 to play to beat Gonzaga in Seattle. Locally, I was stuck watching Purdue stifle Stephen Curry to the point that I'm not even sure he can be considered one of the Top 5 players in the country anymore -- 5/26 FG, 2/12 3-pt, 13 pts. Purdue put on a defensive clinic.

Meanwhile, was I saying that Xavier-Duke would be a great one? Hardly. Duke won handily, and even though I'm a hater, I'm ready to call it a Statement Game for Duke. Instead, at 2, it was that Michigan St-Texas game that was the thriller. And another "statement" win, this time for MSU... Finally, Player of the Day honors weren't even won until the evening, when Jonny Flynn scored 24 with 6 assists and Syracuse (without Devendorf) went down to Memphis and beat the Tigers.

CFB Bowl Mania Studs: Colorado State RB Gartrell Johnson, who had 285 yards rushing (2nd-most ever in a bowl game) and 375 yards combined rushing and receiving (which WAS an FBS bowl record). And South Florida QB Matt Grothe, who had 236 yards passing (with 3 TDs) and 83 yards rushing, to become -- temporarily -- the Big East career total offense leader. (At least until Pat White takes it back later this week.)

NBA: Is LeBron leaning toward re-signing with the Cavs early, based on this amazing start? More likely, he is playing Cavs fans -- teasing them with the prospects, knowing that he doesn't want them eyeing the team's amazing start with the cynical view that he could be gone in 2010. I'm sure LeBron is simply manipulating the p.r. here, just as sure as I am that he is still as good as gone in 2010.

(Meanwhile, yes, the Celtics are sick, but my pick of the Magic as East champs isn't that far off, based on the way they beat back the Lakers -- Kobe had a season-high 41 -- in Orlando. Yes, LA was playing a back-to-back after that fight in Miami on Friday night. Still, a big win for the O.)

Stay warm and/or dry and/or out of the nasty weather today, folks.

-- D.S.