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Today's Names to Know: Felix Hernandez, Mike Vick, Brian St. Pierre, Brett Favre, Tyler Thigpen, Brandon Marshall, Cam Newton, Wrigley Field, Tiger Woods, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Steve Nash, Texas hoops and More.
It's a crazy-full post today, by the way. I even dip into NASCAR; if you're ever going to write about (or read about... or care about) NASCAR, this is the weekend. Thanks for reading:
Felix Hernandez wins the AL Cy Young: The most groundbreaking and important baseball award in a half-century (let's show some restraint, in homage to Jackie Robinson winning NL ROY).
There are two lessons: (1) A pitcher's wins and losses have historically been highly overvalued, and this helps drive that home for fans. (2) The BBWAA were swayed by sabermetrically based arguments. I don't think Felix wins this last year, let alone 5 or -- god forbid -- 10 years ago.
NFL Week 11: Didn't think anything could eclipse Pats-Colts, but Mike Vick has done it -- by himself, he has made Eagles-Giants the most must-see game of the weekend -- if only to watch how he follows up this past Monday night, against another division rival.
Beyond those two games? The schedule feels full of dogs and duds -- which inevitably means we'll see upsets and close games. The Packers and the Vikings always make for good theater -- Favre may be limping off the stage, but you know he would love a win over Green Bay.
Brian St. Pierre Watch: I can tell you my favorite storyline of the weekend: The Panthers starting 30-year-old Brian St. Pierre, who has thrown about a dozen pro passes since being drafted in 2003, and who was most recently -- like last week -- a stay-at-home dad. It's like Kurt Warner 2.0, only without the stats or the winning. I am a bit obsessed with Brian St. Pierre.
Bears smother the Dolphins: Yikes, things look bleak in Miami. Hope you didn't pick up Tyler Thigpen for your fantasy team, hoping you found a hidden gem. (Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall is a dope: His attempt at insulting Cutler backfired, and his hamstring injury made him look feeble.)
Cam Newton, Cont'd: I know that based on NCAA rules, it doesn't matter if Cam Newton didn't know what his dad was doing on his behalf during his recruitment; it's all fruit of the poisonous tree.
But as it relates to public perception -- and, ultimately, how the NCAA feels compelled to proceed on the Newton investigation -- it is very smart of his lawyer to stake out some very clear, simple ground: Cam knew nothing. He didn't ask for any money. He didn't take any money. And if any money was asked for or did change hands, Cam knew nothing about it.
This gibes with the SI account of Cam's recruitment, in which he pliantly left the decision entirely up to his dad, who dictated to Cam where he would go.
We can all find the actions of the adults to be unseemly, and positioning Cam as the innocent victim of adults trying to make a buck off of him makes Cam much more sympathetic... and makes it much tougher to create any sort of pressure to make him ineligible.
(It is classic jury nullification: Yes, the rules were broken, but the rules are wrong. So send a message the rules are wrong by not punishing him. It's not that scheming-for-money shouldn't be against the rules, but if a parent does it without the player's knowledge -- and I think there is a strong anecdotal and intuitive case to be made that Cam had no idea -- then it seems wrong to punish the player with ineligiblity.)
CFB Weekend: Game of the Week? In the absence of a tough game for a Top 4 contender -- although tonight's Boise-Fresno game should be a good one -- I'm going to go with Northwestern vs. Illinois at Wrigley Field, which is to college football what the NHL's Winter Classic is to hockey. The visuals are simply too awesome to not watch, no matter who is playing. Too bad it's shunted off to ESPNU, while ABC shows Ohio State-Iowa, ostensibly thinking that one of them has a chance at a Big Ten title that Wisconsin will not be relinquishing.
Other games of intrigue:
*Stanford at Cal
*Nebraska at Texas A&M
*VA Tech at Miami
*Arkansas at Mississippi State
More: Love this ad campaign with Allstate sponsoring Spencer Hall of SBNation, taking a college football road trip.
Last night: As expected, Alabama rolled over Georgia State. But GSU will take something out of this, and when they eventually move up to D-1A, they will probably point to this game as a key part of the process.
Tiger Watch: The biggest sign yet that Tiger's power and authority have atrophied? His attempt at a p.r. maneuver this week -- the Twitter feed, the Newsweek essay and, most recently, the radio interview on ESPN -- were considered duds:
The same old hollow-sounding talking points that don't get into any details or showcase real emotion. The solution (aside from, y'know, winning tournaments) is the same as it has been since the day after the accident: Open up, provide some details, answer anything/everything.
Things had calcified over the past 10 months -- Team Tiger's attempt to thaw his reputation didn't have nearly enough to it.
NASCAR's "Game 7" moment: Up until now, NASCAR's "Chase" series -- an attempt at "playoffs" -- has been pretty weak. That this season's Chase comes down to a final race -- between Hamlin (in the lead), Johnson (multiple-time defending champ) and Harvick (still in it) -- actually creates dramatic, winner-take-all stakes for the season's final race on Sunday.
Here's my question: What happens with the rest of the field? Do they help their friends? Do they largely stay out of the way? Do they try to influence the outcome? This is an extreme example, but what if a driver, partial to Johnson, crashes into Hamlin?
Is there an etiquette? How can there be -- this is a first-time situation. And the stakes are pretty high: Money (particularly sponsorship money) for the champ, along with a place in the sport's history. Why wouldn't a racer with no stakes beyond a personal or economic relationship with one of the three leaders try to help a friend/teammate?
NBA Last Night: As if you didn't already know, when Steve Nash doesn't play, the Suns are not very good. I would love to see Nash get moved to a contender; he's too good -- too much of an all-timer -- to whittle away his remaining career years on a Lottery team.
CBB Last Night: Texas got the "prove-it" win of the night, beating Illinois at Madison Square Garden, and setting up another "prove-it" game tonight, against Pitt (who beat Maryland).
Sidebar: I remember going to the CvC in 2006 to watch a then-unknown Florida team, and saying to my wife, "Ugh, why is Joakim Noah playing? He's terrible!" (This was the start of Noah's sophomore year, after he played about 3 minutes as a freshman.) And her saying, "You're totally wrong. He is going to be really good. Look at the energy." Of course, she was right.
Enjoy your weekend everyone.