Friday, December 21, 2012

12/21 (Pre-Christmas) Quickie

Well, I'll be filing all weekend and all next week, if you want to stick with me, but if not -- Merry Christmas to you and yours. Briefly:

*Nick Saban to the Browns? I heartily endorse this. Saban has nothing left to prove as a college coach. He has built a dynastic juggernaut at Alabama. He doesn't need money. He is already a Hall of Famer. So why not try to conquer the one thing he has yet to: Success in the NFL?

(BTW: Can you imagine the scrum to replace him if he leaves for the NFL? I can't even begin to think who might replace him. Will Muschamp seems unlikely to leave Florida, even for Alabama. Dan Mullen? He's not part of the Saban family. Chip Kelly? He has his own eye on the NFL -- meanwhile, does anything seem more fun than Kelly teaming up with Cam Newton in Carolina? The upshot is this: Is it possible that Nick Saban is irreplaceable at Alabama?)

*NFL Storylines I'm Intrigued By: (1) Is 49ers-Seahawks even more interesting than 49ers-Patriots? (2) RGIII returns vs. the Eagles. (3) The log-jam at the top of the NFC East -- not quite must-win for the Skins, Giants and Cowboys, but close to it. (4) Can the Bengals knock the Steelers out of the playoff picture? Not quite as impressive as Tim Tebow knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs in January, but close. (5) Greg McElroy.

*Bowl Mania: No bowl name makes fans smile like "Beef O'Brady's." So there's that. Meanwhile: Washington vs. Boise State in Las Vegas on Saturday should be a fun one.

*Jabari Parker picks Duke: Can't help thinking that there's a parallel universe where Northwestern fired Bill Carmody two years ago and hired Duke assistant Chris Collins, and yesterday Parker picks Northwestern. Alas.... (Meanwhile, is using Paul Pierce as Parker's comp a coded way of labeling him as unathletic?) Prediction: Parker stays two seasons at Duke, not one.

*NBA: And just like that, the T'wolves' bandwagon is filling up again. All it took was snapping the Thunder's massive winning streak.

*CFB: Steroids in college football? You don't say! Spencer Hall captures the smart reaction here.

*ICYMI: The New York Times put together a really terrific package of storytelling with "Snowfall." My only gripe: It seems unfair that reporter John Branch gets sole credit, when clearly so much of the piece's impact comes from the impressive graphics. Would have been cool for the story's producers to get top billing, along with its writer. Still: Well worth the 30 minutes to consume this.

-- D.S.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

12/20 (Thursday) Quickie

ICYMI: This year's Quickish "Best Sportswriting of the Year" list.


Beyond the sadness we all deeply feel about the tragedy in Newtown, the story of Victor Cruz providing personal consolation to the family of 6-year-old Jack Pinto, a huge Cruz fan, is particularly affecting for me. That Gabe is in first grade, like so many of the children who were murdered, put the massacre in particularly horrifying perspective for me.

But, like Jack, Gabe is at the cusp of his die-hard life-long sports fandom. Gabe's favorite NFL player is Cam Newton and the Panthers. His favorite NBA player and team is Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. He watches highlights every day. He follows my fantasy teams (and wants to play next year by himself). He battles me each week making NFL predictions (he's currently beating me with two weeks to go.)

Being a sports fan is a huge part of Gabe's burgeoning identity, just as it clearly was for Jack Pinto and probably many other of the children who were killed. When you root for your teams -- when you watch sports -- think of Jack and how much he cared, in that way that is totally innocent and enthusiastic and cynicism-free.

When you watch sports with a 6-year-old, you simply can't say things you typically would with your buddies or at a sports bar, like "Cripes, he sucks." Partly, that's because you shouldn't talk that way around any 6-year-old and partly, that's because you can't -- you simply can't -- pierce the pure, wide-eyed love for sports that exists in a 6-year-old fan who cares so deeply about sports.

And thanks to Victor Cruz for caring back.

Awkward transition to shallow commentary about the latest sports news...

*Tebow era ending in NYC: It's for the best for everyone. I'm presuming he'll end up in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, it's possibly more intriguing that the Jets are ready to bail on Mark Sanchez. If only they didn't gum up the works with that idiotic contract extension last year.

(And then there's the idea floated out there that the Jets could be interested in Michael Vick. You know what? Great. He's better than Sanchez and could himself use a change of scenery from Philly.)

*Kevin Durant scores season-high 41: He is unstoppable, as is OKC. That the team is even better without James Harden is a testament to the evolution of Durant (and, for sure, Westbrook), but also to the "system."

*Clippers win 11th straight: Are they true contenders for the NBA title? Who cares? For this franchise, relevance and winning should be good enough.

*RGIII to start: But it's got to make Redskins fans feel a little less antsy to know that Kirk Cousins actually could step in if necessary. However: Fully expecting RGIII dominance, to maximize the narrative here.

*CBB: Myck Kabongo won't be able to play at Texas this season. If he goes to the NBA Draft -- as expected -- and ends up a 1st-round pick (as is his potential), then it begs the question why any player with first-round potential should play in college basketball, rather than sit out the mandatory year off and just train for the NBA (while taking advances on future paychecks).

*CFB: Was Brian Kelly the coach of the year? Oh, probably, although you could make a pretty good case for Bill Snyder or Will Muschamp or Kevin Sumlin.

*The best thing you'll read today: John Branch -- a 2011 Quickish "Best of the Year" honoree -- with a huge story on an avalanche in Washington's Cascades.

*Also really good: The Classical with an oral history of the legendary Website "Fire Joe Morgan."

-- D.S.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

12/19 (Best of) Quickie

Fun day yesterday: Released the 2012 edition of the Quickish "Best Sportswriting of the Year" list.

Check out the list here.

Check out my brief "liner notes" here.

There are a couple key components to every edition:

*Picking a top tier (12 in honor of 2012, in this particular case) is brutal. As much as anything, it's personal taste, but I try to get a wide variety of sources and styles.

*The meat of the list is the "Also Receiving Votes" section, up to 30-some pieces this year after half that a year ago. It's a function of how much great stuff there is at the top tier.

*But my favorite part is the "How could you miss...?" feedback from readers. No problem 'fessing up: There are bound to be glaring omissions. I love recognizing them. Please chime in if you see any.

Related to omissions, it is both odd and unfair that some of my favorite writers -- the ones who deliver every day -- are not represented. I'm thinking of folks like Grantland's Bill Barnwell, SI's Tim Layden and SL Price (whose Olympic coverage was unmatched), Deadspin's Barry Petchesky and Jack Dickey, Yahoo Sports' Les Carpenter, SB Nation's Andrew Sharp, the Wall Street Journal's Scott Cacciola and Ben Cohen, so many of my talented colleagues at USA TODAY Sports and many more folks who are recognized throughout the day, every day, on Quickish.

Regardless, I love creating the list and I am glad people seem to enjoy it. Had a few issues with a few too many people trying to access the site when the list went up -- I guess I try to see the bright side that the site crashing means that people want to see what we're producing.

Quick notes off the news:
*Jets bench Sanchez for McElroy: ...And, most relevant, NOT Tebow. Ugh.
*Wisconsin hires Utah State's Andersen: Really like this hire.
*Lakers barely beat Bobcats at home: This is what it has come to.
*Want to be a panelist for USA TODAY's famous Super Bowl "Ad Meter?" Sign up here.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

12/18 (Tuesday) Quickie

Today's Names to Know: Jeremy Lin, Mark Sanchez, Jim Boeheim, RA Dickey, Serge Ibaka.

Jeremy Lin playing terrific against the Knicks last night in his NYC homecoming was as predictable as it was awesome to see. It was a reminder of 2012's signature moment in (non-Olympic) sports: Linsanity, the three-week stretch in February that captured everything we love about sports.

This time, the MSG fans weren't quite as hysterical as they were 10 months ago -- they're forgiven the smattering of boos, because they were so packed with self-loathing -- but if they got to re-live that glorious stretch from last winter even for a minute, even with the center of their attention/affection playing for the other team, it is worth it.

Mark Sanchez playing terrible against the Titans last night in the Jets' coup de crap was also as predictable... as it was awesome to see.

(Aside from following hilarious comments about the game on Twitter, I tuned in long enough to see Tebow's lone series -- how about that first-down run on his first play? -- and the debacle that unfolded over the final two minutes: Sanchez INT -- his 4th -- and then the first-snap fumble after the Titans had gifted the Jets a last-gasp chance inside the 25-yard-line. It was more than enough to get the gist.)

Actually, I spent my time last night putting the final touches on this year's Quickish list of the best sportswriting of the year, which will be published sometime this week.

900 wins for Jim Boeheim: It is a monumental number. His career highlight is clearly the title run with Carmelo in 2003, with the 1987 runner-up and '96 Final Four team rounding out the Top 3.

NBA: In the West, it's the (footloose and Harden-free) Thunder, then everyone else. Hate to read too much into a single regular-season game, but OKC dismantled the Spurs, and the key was Serge Ibaka, who had 25 and 17 with 3 blocks, looking every bit like a full-fledged part of a new Big Three. OKC has won 11 straight. (FWIW, the Clippers have won 10 straight, but it's hard to see LA competing with the Thunder in May, when it counts. The Spurs? Yes. Anyone else? No.)

MLB: Dickey deal finalized with Jays. The Mets don't want to pay him, so the Jays happily will, and the competitive dynamic in the AL East is affirmed as the must-see show in baseball next year.

CBB: Should Butler join Georgetown, Villanova and the rest of the "Catholic 7" spin-off/start-up basketball league? Absolutely. It's a no-brainer.

RGIII sets NFL jersey-sales record: One more indicator that the rookie is already the face of the NFL.

-- D.S.

Monday, December 17, 2012

12/17 (Monday) Quickie

Hell of a game between the 49ers and Patriots.

The Pats nearly pulled off a once-in-a-half-century comeback... Colin Kaepernick looked like a QB that could take this 49ers team to a Super Bowl... There was even a controversial 4th-down call by Bill Belichick...

We already knew the 49ers and the Pats were elite teams. And that the Pats' D was leaky but it's offense was capable of scoring in bunches on anyone (even the standard-bearing 49ers D). If you want to place an overly symbolic emphasis on anything, it would be Kaepernick coming into Foxboro in December in the cold rain in primetime and showing nothing but swagger.

It's not like the level-headed Alex Smith had a bad year last season -- he did lead the 49ers to the NFL's final four. But there was something about Kaepernick's ability to perform in a context that was just about as tough as it gets outside of the playoffs that stood out about this game.'s Ashley Fox was entirely fair in suggesting this was the Game of the Year in the NFL.

And's Mike Tanier put it nicely: This would make for a phenomenal Super Bowl match-up.


Question of the Day: How many fantasy playoff games were won (or lost) thanks to Kirk Cousins?

(Given how few playoff teams probably started Cousins -- even those who might have needed a handcuff for RGIII -- he more appropriate question is how many fantasy playoff games were won thanks to Russell Wilson, who has proven himself every bit as worthy of Rookie of the Year as RGIII and Andrew Luck, a fairly remarkable thing if you think about it.)

Huge win for the Cowboys: The final two weeks of the NFC East playoff race are going to be fantastic, and let's hope it comes down to a playoff-ish play-in between the Redskins and Cowboys in Week 17.

Huge win for the Falcons? OK, they destroyed the Giants. No, I still don't buy them as a legit Super Bowl contender.

Meanwhile: The "just like last year" playoff field is rounding into form -- the league is worse off for it, by the way.

The amazing Adrian Peterson: How can you not be rooting for him to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record?

MLB: The Mets giving up on RA Dickey -- regardless of who they got back in a trade from suddenly fascinating Toronto -- is worse than the Knicks giving up on Jeremy Lin.

(There aren't many stories in sports better than Lin's -- in 2012 or ever -- but Dickey's is one of them. Dickey is also more productive than Lin, with a better chance at maintaining his peak form for the length of his contract extension.)

NBA: Andrew Bynum's point that Kobe stunted his development is entirely well-taken, but he's not really in a position to be griping about it right now.

CBB: Love the little details coming out about how Butler's Brad Stevens and Indiana's Tom Crean were sniping at each other from the sidelines throughout Saturday's game.

MNF: Is it too much to ask for the Jets to finally give Tebow a chance to succeed? Probably, but for the 15th straight week, I'll be watching just in case.

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

12/16 (Very) Quickie

Still stunned and shaken by what happened in Newtown, and my heart goes out to the families of the people murdered. That the kids were the same age as Gabe... it's near-impossible to process.

I feel awful pushing ahead with "So how about Butler being Indiana!" or "Will we get a Rex Grossman sighting today?" or "Is the Mets letting RA Dickey go worse than the Knicks letting Jeremy Lin go?"

So I'm going to put aside the post for the rest of the day and come back to things tomorrow. Doesn't lessen the impact of Friday's tragedy -- at all.

-- D.S.