Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saturday 01/17 (Very) Quickie

Twitter-style: What are you doing?
Getting ready for a fantastic afternoon and evening of college hoops.
I would say I am most intrigued by Georgetown at Duke, but followed closely by Wake-Clemson and Pitt-L'ville.

Bucs fire Jon Gruden: Now that was a bit unexpected. They must have seen a lot more potential in D.C. Raheem Morris (maybe because the Broncos did first?) than Gruden, who will undoubtedly land somewhere by next season -- but who now officially becomes a coaching retread. Meanwhile, between the 32-year-old Morris and the 32-year-old Josh McDaniels, the trend is definitely for the younger promising head coaches with less of a resume than the...ahem...retreads.

The Magic are on fire: They beat the Lakers last night (despite Kobe's large part thanks to Dwight Howard's 30th double-double and the continued scorching play of should-be All-Star Jameer Nelson -- I'll admit I was a draft-night doubter about him, but he has turned into a sensational NBA player (undoubtedly benefiting from the right context).

Cripes: It is WAY too cold out.

-- D.S.

Friday, January 16, 2009

LeBron As a Cleveland Browns Player

This upcoming State Farm ad featuring LeBron as a player for the Cleveland Browns should get a ton of attention. Kudos to Sparty And Friends -- a blog started by disaffected commenters! I'm so proud! -- for being all over this one. (h/t: True Hoop for taking it wide)

UPDATE: I am surprised that Nike-loyal LeBron put on anything with a Reebok "vector" logo, but I presume that is what he had to do to wear an actual Brown uni. I will say this: If Reebok doesn't ambush the LeBron marketing power by creating and selling No. 23 Browns jerseys, they are insane. In fact, how could they not have them ready for sale Monday, after the commercial airs nationally?

-- D.S.

Friday 01/16 A.M. Quickie:
Cards, Eagles, Harvin, Sanchez, CBB Wknd

Start with this: In today's SN column, I'm picking the Eagles and the Steelers -- two of the more passionate/insufferable fan bases in the NFL (if not all of sports).

It's easy to root for the Eagles for two reasons: (1) They have never won a Super Bowl, and (2) I picked them to win the Super Bowl before the playoffs started.

That said, I'd give up both -- even being right! -- for the Cardinals going to the Super Bowl; as someone who values novelty as much as I do, it's just one of the ultimates.

Meanwhile, there is good reason to root for Eagles-Ravens:

The idea of two 6-seeds running the table on the road is the ultimate manifestation of "parity" -- it should make any expert doubt everything they might think they know about how the NFL works.

The strongest line from today's column: "Hiring Jim Schwartz is the best thing to happen to the Lions since they drafted Barry Sanders."

Percy Harvin going pro: I'm torn. He is/was one of my favorite all-time Florida players; it's arguable he was the most talented player to ever put on a Florida uniform.

His injury history and his status as a lock first-rounder (I'm predicting that he falls no further than the Patriots) means that he had no choice but to turn pro now.

Will Florida miss him next season? Absolutely, even with Tebow coming back.

Harvin was one of the rare players -- even more than Maclin or Derrick Williams or Jahvid Best -- where anytime he came on the field, the defense was distracted to the point of changing the play by his mere presence.

Dr. Saturday has a phenomenal quote about it from yesterday: "The only things that ever really stopped Harvin were his own ankle and hamstring, which just aren't evolved to handle that much torque."

That said: This was a breakthrough year for Florida playmakers -- although none are as good as Harvin, a couple of them are just as fast. Jeff Demps was a home-run threat every time he touched the ball (he isn't the receiver that Harvin is); Chris Rainey is a playmaker (but more injury-prone than Harvin). Brandon James is sort of Harvin-Lite. Deonte Thompson has a ton of potential. Incoming freshman Andre Debose may very well be the next Harvin. They will miss him, but there is plenty of depth -- see the way Florida beat Alabama, even without Harvin.

Meanwhile, Pete Carroll is a bit of a d'bag for ripping Mark Sanchez's decision to turn pro. Yeah: Like Carroll is now going to go out and actively recruit the kind of player who doesn't have the ability to turn pro after 3 seasons. Quit whining.

The end of the college football season signals the moment for a lot of fans to re-engage in college hoops, and Saturday's lineup -- no CFB, no NFL -- is an amazing moment to do it:

No. 1 Pitt has arguably its toughest game of the year, at Louisville, which has those bad non-conf losses but is sizzling in Big East play.

Georgetown at Duke: One of the Top 3 non-conference games of the season, G'town is coming off a huge win over Syracuse this week. Speaking of which...

Notre Dame vs. Syracuse: Yet another titanic Big East battle in a season where you can't go a few days without another one.

Wake Forest at Clemson: Is Wake the best team in the country? Is Clemson for real? Answers to both will be available.

Complete column here. Have a great weekend everyone. College hoops feasting on Saturday. NFL conference-title games on Sunday. Great weekend of sports. More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

AOL Sports Is Dead, Long Live Fanhouse

It seems crazy to me that I actually began my career in online sports media before AOL Sports even really existed -- my company, Real Fans Sports Network (ne Extreme Fans), provided original sports content daily (constantly) to the AOL audience back when it was an aggregation of AOL-funded destination areas within AOL's "walled garden" of subscribers. I mean, come on: I was fluent in Rainman!

(We were a scrappy start-up literally inventing original online sports content -- we weren't the only ones, of course, but we had a prominent platform on AOL and we were wildly successful given our resources. One of the founders was Hank Adams, now CEO of Sportvision. One of my co-workers is Rob Peterson of One was Matt Sampson, who was critical to the first step of Bill Simmons' career. I'll write more extensively about it some day. But I digress...)

Then came AOL Sports -- which was still a collection of partners, like SportsLine and the NFL. Then AOL Sports went onto the Web. Then things were slow.

Then Jamie Mottram created and launched Fanhouse as part of AOL Sports and delivered a key evolutionary moment for online sports media.

Now it's just Fanhouse, quick-hit original content off the day's big sports headlines -- just like we at Real Fans were doing in 1995. Everything old is new again, I guess. Except Jay Mariotti still thought newspapers were the place to be.

-- D.S.

PS: I ask this every time I mention it, but if any of you were on AOL back in the mid-90s and remember Real Fans, please don't be afraid to share. Man, was that an experience.

Obamaball: Alexander Wolff FTW With the Definitive Article on Obama and Basketball

Just about a year in the making -- since the primary season began a year ago and Barack Obama's passion for basketball became a huge storyline, certainly among sports fans -- here comes what will likely be the definitive piece about Obama's love of hoops, from SI's Alexander Wolff.

(Ironically, Wolff recently took the SI buy-out -- this piece might serve as the basis for a very successful book that can help off-set that recent career change.)

Anyway, a must-read and kudos to Wolff. (This is going to come across like an insult, but it's really the opposite: It doesn't happen much anymore, but sometimes SI delivers the "signature" take on a story. I think this is one of those times.)

-- D.S.

Thursday 01/15 A.M. Quickie:
Bradford, Sanchez, Boldin, CP3, More

Sorry for the late/short post. Here's the column, if you haven't seen it yet. Gist of the lead: Not sure there has been a triumvirate of QB star power in college football like Tebow-McCoy-Bradford next season. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday 01/14 A.M. Quickie:
Meeks, Pioli, Magic, Mays, Kiffin

Because his college career came at the peak of my teen-aged development as a sports fan, I maintain something of a nostalgic fascination with Chris Jackson during his career at LSU.

If you're under 30, you probably don't remember him much, if at all -- or, more likely, you know him far better as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, summarily drummed out of the NBA, basically for being a Muslim. ("If you're under 30?" Cripes. Smack me for ever offering up that patronizing clause again.)

Anyway, in college, Jackson was absurdly good. Like: Makes-Stephen-Curry-look-pedestrian good. And one time in 1989, he scored a double-nickel vs. Ole Miss, and that came up last night when Kentucky's Jodie Meeks scored 54 at Tennessee.

Meeks had already scored 46 a month ago vs. App State -- but topping 50 in major college hoops, on the road no less, is putting yourself in very rare air. On an otherwise slow sports night where I was a lot more interested in the "Idol" premiere than any sports being shown on TV, it was a prolific performance. And so it leads today's SN column.

Other storylines you'll find:
*Why KC hiring Scott Pioli is the NFL best move of the offseason.
*Why the Magic are so on fire right now.
*Why the Coaches' poll will continue to frustrate you.
*Why Taylor Mays could win the Heisman.
*Why Lane Kiffin put his newborn in a tough position.

Check it out here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Utah As No. 1: A Second Thought

There are a few good reasons for me to accept the legitimacy of Utah as the No. 1 team in the country:

(1) I voted them No. 2 and think that they are the only team right now that could give Florida a game. I'm not saying they would win, but I am more than convinced they could win.

(2) Your comments and feedback. You all make terrific arguments for Utah. (That said: I remain convinced that the AP voters who voted for Utah were, largely, just trying to be contrarian.)

(3) On almost all matters related to Florida football and statistics, I defer to the thoughtful thinkers at Saurian Sagacity. And so it was to my surprise -- an oddly pleasant one, actually -- that on their final BlogPoll ballot, they voted Utah at No. 1 ahead of Florida.

More than that, they backed it up with some very convincing arguments.

I maintain that Florida is the best team in the country. I maintain that Utah is a strong No. 2. I concur that - as in previous years - we will never know and that this is all speculation. (And, let's point out: If there was a 4-team playoff, Utah would not have been invited.)

I am more than willing to admit that I can't possibly sidestep my own bias in making the distinction between them. As quick as I am to credit Utah -- and I am proud to evidence that I have all season -- there is no getting around my own bias here. (Fair question: How would a "pre-2001" Dan Shanoff have voted?)

What I will say is that though I have tried to provide at least a few provocative opinions in my life, ranking Utah at No. 2 was not one of them -- this was no novelty pick, made for the sake of undermining the BCS or, worse, self-promotion. They are a truly excellent team.

(Hopefully, they and their fans take at least some solace in ranking as high as they possibly could have under the current system -- and stirring a debate that they even might be the best.)

Kudos to the Saurian Sagacity crew -- as die-hard Florida fans as anyone (and they are more than happy to boastfully celebrate an SEC title, as well as a win in the BCS title game) -- for their intellectual forthrightness and commitment to the knowable.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 01/13 A.M. Quickie:
Cardinals, Curry, Oklahoma, Louisville

The Cardinals are the new "America's Team." How do you define an "America's Team?" That leads today's SN column, but -- in short -- it's the bandwagon that everyone jumps on when the vast majority of fans have no other rooting interest than the most compelling storyline available.

In this case, the Cardinals aren't just compelling -- it's a once-in-a-lifetime moment for any fan under the age of, say, 60... folks who have never known anything BUT the Cards sucking.

As I point out in the column, this is much different than the jumping on the bandwagon of the Rays run: The sheer decades-long history of ineptitude qualifies the Cardinals as their own unique brand of novelty. And, in the absence of your own team still alive, it's worth rooting for.


*Baseball Hall: Again, who in their right mind wouldn't vote for Rickey? Meanwhile, I'd love to hear why Jim Rice is more Hall-worthy now than he was last year/5 years ago/10 years ago. I think he won a war of attrition, and more voters than not simply gave in to their buddies.

*Oklahoma makes its claim as a national contender -- and as the best team in the Big 12.

*Did I jump off the Louisville bandwagon (and onto Wake's) too early? Notre Dame fans say "Yes."

*Both Josh "No, really: I smile!" McDaniels and Jim "No, really: I love a turnaround job!" Schwartz said all the right things to make Broncos and Lions fans happy.

*Tebow shoulder surgery! (No: I'm actually not that breathless about it...certainly not as breathless as I am about Myron Rolle officially putting off the NFL for Oxford. THAT rules.)

*Eddy Curry: Um...yeah...about that. Lawsuits are easy to file; this driver guy knows exactly what pressure point to push for an NBA player -- play the "gay" card. Curry may win the day on the lawsuit, but he will never ever shake this allegation. It will define his career, unfortunately.

Complete column here
. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Florida: Your BlogPoll National Champion

Florida is No. 1, crowned the 2008 BlogPoll National Champion. (FWIW, Utah is No. 2.) Doc Saturday has a breakdown (as does BlogPoll administrator Brian Cook), and -- perhaps to credit to both the Doc and to me -- both he and I had Florida at No. 1 in the preseason, as did 12 other BlogPollsters. Next season, that won't be nearly so impressive.

Rickey: 24 Votes Shy of Unanimous HOF

How can 24 self-proclaimed (and BBWAA-"accredited") baseball "experts" leave Rickey Henderson off their Hall of Fame ballot? There should be a rule where if you leave out an "obvious" pick, you lose your voting privileges for some X amount of time. There is voter prerogative, and then there is you-have-no-excuse wrong.

-- D.S.

Dash Bennett on The Passion of Tim Tebow

Deadspin's Dash Bennett is the sports-blog Rookie of the Year of 2008, stepping into Deadspin's maw and constantly delivering.

Despite the superlatives and the storylines, writing a post about Tim Tebow of nationalized scope and any non-superficial depth is not easy -- it is mostly left to regional players and (ahem) fawning bandwagoneers.

Bennett pulled it off here, and I'm not just linking to it because he sympathetically points out my own post on the matter (and my SN post, at that, not even my blog post from yesterday).

To reiterate: Among the superlatives, perhaps the most devastating is this -- there have been and will never be more expectations placed on a player than there will be on Tebow in '09.

-- D.S.

Obamaball: White House Pick-Up Hoops

We're just over a week away from the era of pick-up basketball games at the White House. And that story led yesterday's New York Times' Sunday Styles section. If you love basketball, it really will be awesome. I have said this before: Hoops will reign as the national pastime.

12 AP Voters Nullify Their Cred By Voting
Utah Over Their Previous No. 1, Florida

Via Pollspeak -- a spectacularly useful site whose existence I have been begging for for years -- a wild piece of information that I had asked them to find out for me:

Of the 16 AP voters who gave Utah their No. 1 vote, 12 nullified their penultimate ballot, which listed Florida at No. 1 the last time they were asked.

Presumably, if your No. 1 team heading into the bowl season wins their final game -- even if you didn't have their opponent (Oklahoma) at No. 2 and had them at 3 or 4 -- you would keep them there if they won.

This is the equivalent of jury nullification and it borders on intellectual bankruptcy. I'm curious how many actually thought Utah was the best team and how many just wanted to either (a) make a statement about the BCS or (b) make a name for themselves.

Here is the roll-call of the suspicious dozen:

Doug Lesmerises:
Jake Schaller:
Bob Hammond:
Jim Lamar:
Kevin Pearon:
Mark Anderson:
Mike Strain:
Mitch Vingle:
Randy Harrison:
Scott Wolf:
Steve Conroy:
Tom Hart:

Huge thanks to Pollspeak for their help in compiling this list. Transparency and accountability among poll voters -- in any sport and for any reason (rankings, awards, Hall of Fame) is paramount in our sports culture. We finally have the tools to track it.

UPDATE: Here's a link to how all AP voters voted Utah, ranging from 1st to 5th.

-- D.S.

UPDATE 2: Hugh from Pollspeak sent me an email, and I wanted to print it for you in full (with his permission, of course):
[P]ersonally, I don't have a problem with the voters who switched to fact, that can sometimes be a good thing. I more often complain about how people don't make changes to their polls enough...simply because they feel they can't "slide" other teams out of the way, but that isn't the fairest way to vote.

The fairest way to vote is to start with a clean slate each week and then look at what happened the previous week and create a whole new ballot. In fact, the AP voter guidelines say: " Don’t hesitate to make significant changes in your ballot from week to week. "

I"m not saying Utah deserves to be ranked over Florida...but I certainly wouldn't criticize voters who think that way. Maybe they wanted to put Utah #1, but thought Utah was lacking a quality win. Once they proved themselves...voters changed their mind. I think that is admirable. I much more often see people afraid to make changes...seemingly because they want to prove they were "right" all along.
Thanks, Hugh.

Monday 01/12 A.M. Quickie:
Tebow, Eagles, Steelers, Cards, Wake

Refining yesterday's post about Tebow's return to Florida, in today's SN column I lead by laying out the dramatic stakes for him in 2009: Best Player Ever and Best Team Ever are both in the mix.

Then again, there is Matt Leinart and the 2005 USC Trojans as your cautionary tale.

Picking Florida to win the national championship in August may have been my best call of the 2008, but it might get competition from my pick of the Eagles to win the Super Bowl.

(Yes, I should go ahead and dismiss the Cardinals -- again, for the third straight week. Their D has been sensational, and Warner is probably a win from locking in a place in the Hall of Fame.)

Speaking of Hall of Fame: The question is which idiot BBWAA voters won't put Rickey Henderson into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility? You know they're out there.

You can thank the Steelers for maintaining some level of HFA pride in being the only home team to win this weekend; they'll have it next weekend, too -- the Ravens won't be scared.

I would like to revise my preseason pick of Louisville to win the NCAA Tournament and switch my vote to Wake Forest. (Caveats: They beat UNC at Wake; Ginyard didn't play; UNC shot 35 percent, which won't happen all the time -- including 3/12 from Hansbrough.)

Broncos hire Josh McDaniels: I know Denver needs help with D, but McDaniels can hire a top-flight assistant for that (Mike Nolan? Dom Capers?). He is one of the brightest young coaching talents in the NFL -- Lane Kiffin isn't a cautionary tale; he was entirely unsuited for the role. McDaniels is a career NFL assistant taught by the best -- he will do fantastic.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tim Tebow Returning to Florida for 2009

It's official: Tim Tebow will return to Florida for his senior year. Thus extends the legend of a player already among the most legendary in college football history.
After addressing the crowd and walking to the edge of the stage, he turned around and said, "Oh and by the way, one more thing, let's do it again. I'm coming back!"
This triggers all sorts of things:

(1) Florida will be preseason No. 1, and the heavy favorites to repeat as national champs. (I will repeat as a mantra "USC '05...USC '05" all year long; it's an appropriate cautionary tale.)

(1b) This Florida team does have the potential to be one of the greatest in CFB history (d'oh!). The offense returns Tebow and plenty of skill; the defense returns virtually everyone, including a bunch of redshirt players who could have started this season.

(2) Tebow will be installed as the favorite to win the Heisman -- sorry Colt McCoy: I could see the voters giving it to Tebow simply for coming back and leading the team to an unbeaten season, regardless of stats.

(3) Tebow will have the potential to finish his college career as the greatest player of all time -- certainly the most decorated -- win 2 Heismans (and be finalist for a 3rd) and 3 national championships, which would put him on a plateau of "all-time" unmatched in the sport's history.

(4) There will be so much Tebow insanity all year long, it will be ridiculous, absurd, insane and -- yes -- probably sickening for many of you. The college football world will revolve around him.

I'd suggest you enjoy the novelty -- a mania like this doesn't come along very often, in any sport.

UPDATE: There's one more thing. Much like USC in 2005 (or Florida hoops in 2007), it is "National Title or Utter Failure" next season. Anything less than a title is a bust. The Gators hoops team seemed motivated by that; I think things are much tougher in football.

-- D.S.

Sunday 01/11 (Very) Quickie: Cardinals!

And, all of a sudden, the Arizona Cardinals are America's Team.

If you don't have a rooting interest in the NFL playoffs, how can you not be rooting for pro football's most historically hapless franchise?

That was an incredible defensive beat-down they put on the Panthers on the road (for the 2nd straight week, they shut down a high-powered running attack, this time perhaps the NFL's best) -- and it's hard not to watch Larry Fitzgerald in the first half and not say he is the best WR in the NFL.

Here is how wild it is for the Cards: If the Eagles win today, Arizona will host the NFC championship game. Anyone see that coming?

Meanwhile, coaches HAVE to be able to challenge whether the play clock ran out before an opposing team got their play off -- I love that rookie Joe Flacco won his 2nd straight playoff road game, but it is completely ridiculous that a missed call was the difference.

CBB: Nothing typifies how amazingly competitive the Big East is this year than Louisville going to Philadelphia and beating Villanova... Meanwhile, it's amazing to think that a week ago, Boston College was on top of the world, having beat UNC -- now, they end the week with 2 straight losses, to Harvard and, yesterday, to Miami. UNC must be going: HUNH?!?!

NBA: The Grizzlies re-sign Darius Miles, and I'm pretty sure that they're going to dare the Blazers to sue them. Portland won't, and they will be on the hook for Miles' salary. Sorry, Portland: Maybe you should have thought harder before taking on that salary to begin with. Don't look for the rest of the league to bail you out. (Can you imagine this scenario in the NFL? There would be 20 teams fighting to screw over an up-and-comer.)

MLB: Pedro Martinez to the Marlins? (Do they even need him to help their already loaded young pitching staff?) Are the Marlins the new Rays?

NFL Coaching Carousel: The best thing the Lions could do is hire the Titans' Jim Schwartz, my favorite assistant coach in the NFL. If/when he turns around that franchise, it would be the ultimate validation of Schwartz's stats-based coaching methodology.

Pop Culture: Did you catch the song "I Love The BCS" on Saturday Night Live last night? It wasn't all that clever, but it hits on a massive hot-button among sports fans and anytime sports crosses into larger pop culture (or, say, politics) it gets a ton of attention.

-- D.S.