I'm Just Sayin' . . .

Like any Eagles fan, a feeling of satisfaction swam over me as I watched the Iggles knock off the Cowboys - in Dallas - 23-7, on Monday night. It was extra comforting that the game was never really in doubt. Looking at a week 17 match up that is far from a gimme, it's still pretty amazing that a playoff berth has been clinched and a win will give make the Eagles the winners of the NFC East - a turn of events that didn't seem possible when Philly lost Donovan McNabb for the season, and badly to the Tennessee Titans, to fall to 5-5 for the season.

Maybe I'm a pessimist or the historical failings of my favorite franchises - Eagles and Red Sox - kicked in, but when McNabb went down, I started thinking about next year. The loss the following week to a then-powerful Colts teams only cemented my feelings. And then a funny thing happened . . .

Missing its franchise and the primary participant of 65 percent of its plays, the Eagles' offense diversified. After throwing nearly 2 of every 3 snaps in games 1-9, the pass-rush ration settled in much closer to 1-to-1. Obviously, Jeff Garcia has been fantastic, averaging over 200 yards per game and throwing 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions. And he's been helped because with McNabb out, Brian Westbrook immediately became the most dangerous person on offense and the player opposing defenses keyed on. In a classic symbiotic relationship, Garcia has feasted on teams trying to stop Westbrook, forcing them to pay attention to him, which in turn, frees up Westbrook. I won't say the offense looks unstoppable, but they have done their job - get ahead so Jim Johnson's D can blitz, blitz, blitz.

Despite my breathless praise of this team above, what I've really been thinking about is the other two times McNabb has missed significant time due to injury. Along with 2002 and last year, 2005, this marks the third time in five seasons that McNabb has missed significant time. I'm going to leave the "is he injury prone?" conversation alone for now and focus on this: What happened after McNabb got hurt.

2002 and 2006 are reminiscent of one another. In 2002, McNabb injured his ankle toward the end of a 38-14 route of the Cardinals which, incidentally may have been his best passing performance at that point in his career. Like Garcia, who has won four straight games (after finishing a losing effort against the Titans and losing to the Colts the following week) to lead the Eagles to the playoffs, A.J. Feeley (currently Garcia's backup) stepped in in 2002 and did the same. The Eagles went on to appear in their second consecutive NFC Championship game (losing to Tampa Bay, 27-10) and would appear there again in 2003 and 2004, advancing to the Super Bowl only to lose to the Patriots in 2004.

As has been well-documented, 2005 was a completely different story. For starters, the injury was different. In 2002 and 2006, they were specific, acute injuries that were a result of a specific violent act. The 2005 edition was a sports hernia, an injury that could have happened at any time, and that allowed McNabb to play through the pain, albeit badly. Secondly, the backup quarterback play, from Mike McMahon and Mr. Neckbeard, Koy Detmer, was atrocious. And finally, a certain hall-of-fame wide receiver was tearing apart the team from the inside out over a couple million bucks.

Now let me state my position on Terrell Owens clearly. I am pissed about the way he acted in 2005. I think it was childish, greedy, stupid, and, ultimately, orchestrated by his agent. I also think he is an amazing talent. It was great watching him and McNabb, especially when they were on the same page, but even when they were "fueding" - they put up great numbers. All the chatter about Owens' drops this season are a red herring. He may be dropping more balls this year but the guy is playing with a wrecked finger and, more importantly, Owens has made his name by catching a ton of balls and what he does afterwards, not catching every single one. I think he was absolutely robbed when he was passed over for the Pro Bowl. Dude has missed two plus games and he still has nearly 80 catches, 1100 yards and, most importantly in the bottom line world of the NFL, 12 TDs. But most of all, I feel sorry for Owens. I feel sorry for him that he is so insecure, so eager for approval, wants so much to be liked, that he rejects and repels the people who can (and have tried) to give him the very thing he wants.

Say what you want about McNabb, but I look at him in stark contrast to Owens - not in on-field performance, but in his status as a leader and a team player. I'm not ready to give up my agent-orchestrated theory but Owens claimed that the source of his friction with the Eagles and specifically McNabb, was the quarterback's comments that the team didn't need Owens (after he broke his leg in 2004) to win. When I heard this, it smelled like revisionist history and was the served as the seed for my agent theory. Anyone who watches sports can spot a cliche or see through what an athelte has to say. Was McNabb supposed to say, "Shit, we're screwed" or "I give up, there's no way we can win without TO?" Of course not. He is the leader of a T-E-A-M. And as such, he had to pump up the guys who had to fill in for their injured star. Would he and every other Eagle rather have TO lining up? Hell yes, but that wasn't an option.

Meanwhile, McNabb has been hurt three times. And each time, the tea - as any team in that situation must do - tried to figure out how to overcome losing its best player. Do you think McNabb was upset to see Feeley and Garcia succeed? Do you think he felt threatened? To be fair, I have no idea. But I don't see McNabb stepping out and telling the media how the Eagles need him. I don't see his feelings being hurt when his teammates talk about moving on without him. And I don't see him demanding a new contract as proof that the team loves him best.
Whether he feels those things or not, he's not saying them. At least not publicly. And isn't that the point?

TO Needs a TO [55 Problems]


Sex and Sellouts: My Arena Football Story

Upon hearing the news yesterday that ESPN had purchased minority ownership of the Arena Football League, I rolled my eyes thinking of all the AFL content that was going to be jammed down my throat on SportsCenter, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine etc., etc. I have nothing against arena ball really. In fact, I'm sure I've been to more live arena games than your average football fan. More on that later.

Well, I didn't have to wait long for my fear of blatant cross-promotion to come to pass. While driving in to work today, I was listening to Mike & Mike (but with Eric & Stink - whatever) and they had none other than the esteemed co-owner of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul, Jon Bon Jovi, on to discuss ESPN's exciting new relationship with the Arena Football League (you can find the clip here). Eric Kuselias, playing the part of Greenberg this morning, gushed about how ESPN was going to have Monday Night Football almost all year round, as if the AFL somehow compared to the NFL. The good news is that Bon Jovi was likable and funny. They asked him if he was planning to see Rocky Balboa and his answer was that all he wanted for Christmas was for his dad to take him to that movie and buy the popcorn like he did in the 70s and 80s. I mention only because I'm preparing myself for this aging rocker to become a near ubiquitous presence at the WWL and maybe it won't be so bad (for a while). At least until they start showing AFL highlights to pick-your-Bon-Jovi -tune. And they will. Bastards.

So what's my problem here? Well, I can think of two bigs ones. First, aside from maybe highlights of the Arena Bowl, and an occasional mention in Top 10 plays etc., arena ball has been pretty much absent from ESPN and it's various multimedia platforms since the last time the network aired games 10 or so years ago. You could probably dig around and find something about it on ESPN.com but it didn't rate for a story in the magazine and I never hear it mentioned on ESPN radio. Now, less than 24 hours after the agreement is announced, the AFL is suddenly deemed interesting to the WWL and the consumers of their content? I don't buy it.

Second, this is a league where real football guys are owners or investors with teams. The list is impressive: Mike Ditka, John Elway, Joey Galloway, Ron Jaworski, Tony Boselli and it goes on. I only checked a few of the teams too. So with that much real football cred in your arsenal, you bring on Jon Bon Jovi to talk football? This is the same cross-over appeal thinking that has led to gems like Christian Slater in the MNF booth.

Anyway, on to my vast AFL experience. Right after college - 1994/1995ish - my former roommate started working for the then Albany Firebirds (when they had the old school logo you see above - they now have a fancy cartoonish one). I spent a few years in Iowa during that time and frequently met up with my when they traveled out to Des Moines to play the Barnstomers. Of course, I didn't know or care at the time, but I actually saw Kurt Warner play before he was a super-bible-thumping-MVP. In fact, [SimmonsAlert]my buddy likes to tell the story of when the Firebirds and Barnstomers went to Spain for an exhibition. This was before Mr. Brenda was born again and my friend was trading shots with him watching him get completely shit-faced. Good times. [/SimmonsAlert]

A short tangent . . . Des Moines is not a great party town. While we made out best effort to find something fun to do after the game, the real fun was the night before when we went to a AAA Iowa Cubs game, got loaded on cheap beer (at a ballpark, imagine that!) and bought two of those classic replica helmets (one Cubs, one Phillies), which we then wore on our entire drunken walk back to the hotel despite various Des Moinians honking at and mocking us. More good times.

Anyway, I also caught a couple games in Albany. The football isn't bad and they sure do score a lot, so there's that. I even have a real, live Firebirds jersey (shut up, I didn't pay for it - it's good to know people).
But my best brush with Arena Football royalty came after one of those games. I've heard here and there that, occasionally, professional athletes (even poorly paid ones) have been known to go "off the Rez" and have consenting (if you're lucky) sexual encounters with women who are not their wives or girlfriends. Well, going to these games made for a long night. There was the block party before, where there was much drinking. The game, where there was much drinking. And then hitting the bars afterwards, where there was much drinking. Needless to say, by about 2 or 3 AM, I was feeling no pain and decided I should go to bed before I threw up (ah, those were the days). So I was sleeping in my buddy's guest room - not sure how long - when I was awoken by a certain wide receiver who shall remain nameless (if you can identify him in the picture you win . . . something. Hint: It's neither of the two white dudes), with an apparently lubricated (with alcohol) woman in tow, saying "Dude, you have to go sleep on the couch."

So here I am, confronted by my very own White House situation. Granted, I was drunk and groggy, but I was aware of what was taking place here. If I had been a visionary like Bryant McKinnie or Fred Smoot, perhaps I could have gotten involved. Maybe this young groupie had a friend? Or should I warn this young lady that it was possible that this particular wide receiver already had a wife (or girlfriend, I don't remember) and that was why he had brought her to some random (to her) house for sex? What should I do, I wondered?

What I did, was sleep just fine on the couch. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my Arena Football League story.

Arena Football, It Is Now That You Kneel [Deadspin]


Johnny Damon Needs To Shut His Cake Hole

I loved having Johnny Damon as the Red Sox centerfielder and lead-off hitter. I even understood when he left. It's a business - he got a much better deal from the Yankees and he took it. I even understood it from the Red Sox perspective - the way Damon plays, he will break down due to injuries at and increasing rate. Do they really want to be paying him $10,000,000 a year when he's 36? I was one of the fans that gave him a standing O (amongst the boos) when he returned to Fenway in pinstripes (although I was in my living room, watching the game on TV - don't judge me).

Anyway, I got it, and we lived in a state peaceful co-existence.

And then this morning I see this in The Boston Globe (scroll down to the second entry):

"That's water under the bridge," Damon said. "I got a great offer and a great contract from the Yankees and I'm happy. Maybe [the Red Sox] learned a lot from what happened last year. They finished in third place. They definitely needed to go out and make a statement, and it seems like they're kind of doing that."

What? He didn't just say that . . . well, he did say it. And in doing so, he (unknowingly) violated our truce. I liked it when he appeared to be taking the high road. A former boss used to tell me everyone cuts their own deal. The Red Sox looked at him, determined his value to them for each of the next four years, and went with it. Damon wanted more and he got it elsewhere. So why the sour grapes? Does he really need to rub the collective nose of Red Sox Nation in it? There isn't a single Red Sox fan that would have rather had Coco Crisp instead of Damon in 2006 (Damon outscored Crisp, 115-58 and out-OBPed him .358-.317).

Crisp got hurt, then he slumped, then he got hurt some more. Not to mention, we all thought we got rid of the CF that threw like a girl, only to find out we'd got the other one who did (I'll be honest, the revelation that another major league outfielder could have an arm as bad as Damon's was a total shock to me). Meanwhile, Damon, as predicted (short porch in right and all that), hit a career-high in HRs (24) and did all the other good things like get on base, and score, and slp hits just barely over the thirdbasemen's head.

This is a whole different topic but this deal was never about 2006 or 2007. It was about what Johnny Damon will be in 2008 and 2009. when he's playing at ages 34 and 35 (his birthday is in November). And I'd like to point out that Crisp isn't the only mid-to-late-20s centerfielder that struggled in his first year with a new team. In 2001, at the age of 27, Damon had a horrific year in Oakland (.256 BA, .324 OBP) that ultimately led to his acquisition by the Red Sox.

[simmons]My buddy Rick (sorry, no cool nickname) urged calm. "Maybe he was talking about J.D. Drew."[/simmons] That calmed me down for a little while until I found a longer version of the story on ESPN.com where it is clear he is referring to Matsuzaka's new $52 million contract.

I guess what bothers me is this: Damon has always been a good player. Seamheads knew about him in Kansas City where he turned in three solid seasons and two breakout ones that led to his flop in Oakland. But it was Boston, the Red Sox, and the fans, along with his style, skill and quirks, that made him an icon. And now here he is, a day after relief rejoicing spread throughout New England, twisting the knife. Because he can.

So, as you can tell from the title of this post, I'd like it very, very, very much if Mr. Damon would SHUT HIS FREAKIN' CAKE HOLE.

Gifted Athletes: Bianca & Landon

Welcome to "Gifted Athletes," a new segment here at 55 Problems. Recently, our friends at Deadspin have posted links to the wedding registry of athletes about to get hitched. We missed the gravy boat on Tracy McGrady and his bride, but we're going to do our best from here on out. Enjoy.

Next up on Gifted Athletes, courteousy of The Big Lead, the often topless, tuetonic-hating, great-white-hope of USA soccer Landon Donovan and his fiance Bianca.

Here's the twist with this edition folks . . . I'm not getting them a present. While bueatiful couple are registered at Macy's, the options are pretty slim. While I was able to procure the infinitely useful Tools Of The Trade Commercial Measuring Cups for Dontrelle and Natalee, there was nothing on the registery A) in my price range or B) unique in any way. What? I'm going to get them one Calvin Klein Thistle soup bowl? Nah, I don't think so. And who knew Calvin Klein made dishware? Does that man's talents know no bounds? But I digress . . .

A note about the picture above . . . I don't know where it's from but it's obviously a spoof of the iconic Brandy Chastain goal celebration. A cursory search of Google Images revealed a large number of topless pictures of Donovan. If the future Mrs. Donovan follows her hubby's lead, I predict Donovan will gain quite the following among American males between the ages of 18-35.


Gifted Athletes: Natalee & Dontrelle

Welcome to "Gifted Athletes," a new segment here at 55 Problems. Recently, our friends at Deadspin have posted links to the wedding registry of athletes about to get hitched. We missed the gravy boat on Tracy McGrady and his bride, but we're going to do our best from here on out. Enjoy.

This edition of Gifted Athletes features none other than high-kicking, fire-balling, flat-brimmed, cap-askew, Florida Marlins pitcher, Dontrelle Willis and his bride-to-be Natalee.

Figuring out what to get talented, young, extremely rich people can be quite a chore. I considered seeking a solution for Dontrelle's ass-nipple (see picture below) but ultimately decided on something more conventional.

In this case, we chose the Tools Of The Trade Commercial Measuring Cups pictured above. I can attest to the high quality of these measuring cups as I happen to own the very same ones. In fact, I bought them as a Christmas present for my ex-wife. Insert your own joke here.

We hope that Natalee and Dontrelle enjoy their measuring cups and, of course, their marriage. Congratulations!

NOTE: This isn't just make believe - we really are buying these gifts. We chose the gift box option on the Macy's site and this message went with the gift:

Dear Natalee & Dontrelle,
Congratulations and best wishes!
Sincerely, 55 Problems (doublenicks.blogspot.com)

Also, now that we're buying wedding gifts for people we don't know, we're makign a solemn vow to really, really, try to do a better job getting wedding gifts for people we do know.


Hammering the Box

"Geez, (they) seem to be hammering them in the box, but nothing's going in."

If a woman said that to you, what would you think they were talking about? Is she hitting on you? A carpenter? Try this: a soccer fan. Man, soccer fans talk funny.

Speaking of man, Man U (Manchester United) - they were the ones "hammering the box" - finally did "get it in" in the 45th minute to tie the score at 1-1 in their Champions League match with Benfica (from Portuguese Liga). Benfica features many players with 3+ names and a goalie with a last name of Quim.

Not that sexual undertones should be considered odd in soccer. Europeans are far more open with this stuff than us Puritans. I guess that explains Dutch goalie Stefan Postma's prison rape scene sex tape and this.

OK boys and girls, this is about as close as a live soccer blog as you're going to get from me.

UPDATE: Man U scored twice in the second half to beat Benfica, 3-1.


Move Over, Koy Detmer, Your Neck Beard Has Been Bumped

Sometimes you see something that makes you want to get off your couch and take a picture of the TV. OK . . . actually, that's never happened to me before tonight. Or at least I never followed through.

But tonight, I'm watching the Lakers-Jazz game and TNT starts showing the obligatory celeb shots - Dennis Haysbert, Frank Robinson, Denzel Washington, and, of course, Jack Nic - what the heck is that on his neck?!!!

Now, I know Jack is getting up there in age - he'll be 70 in April - but this guy is a superstar, a legend. I'm thinking he should have a guy that tells him "Hey Jack, I think you missed a spot." How does he end up on TV with a something that looks like a ferret hiding between chins three and four?

This is why I'm terrified of getting old. When you're in your 20s and 30s, you're keeping up on this stuff, trimming your nostril hair, plucking hairs out of your ears etc. But then one day, I don't know, you stop caring, or you lose track of time, and next thing you know you look like you've got cotton balls stuffed in your ears. Or you leave a massive portion of beard on your neck and go to a Lakers game.

Who knows though . . . it's Jack Nicholson, maybe this will start a trend.

UPDATE: Here I was, thinking that Nicholson's neck beard was a horrible, horrible, shaving mistake . . . and then 55 Problems contributor, Meg-han, found this. The man is a genius I tell you!


The Michael Irvin Experiment

If you happened to be listening to The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio or caught the report from The Big Lead, then you know that apparently, former All-Pro wide receiver, experienced drug (ab)user, current retarded NFL studio analyst, and black man, has pulled a Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder.

During a discussion of the Cowboys-Colts game last Sunday, specifically the play of new Dallas QB and Daisy Duke heart-throb Tony Romo, Irvin reach deep into experience as an NFL player and analyst to come up with the this explanation for Romo's athleticism:

“… [there must be] some brothers in that line somewhere … (laughs) somewhere there are some brothers … I don’t know who saw what, where …. [maybe] his great, great, great, great Grandma ran over in the hood or something went down … (more laughs)”
You can listen to the clip here (it's the 6th link down), at least until ESPN buries the evidence.

I don't know if Irvin should or will get fired, suspended, reprimanded over this, but I can't wait to see the fall out, or lack of it. The reaction to this will be very telling and the situation is the perfect petri dish in which to determine if the media - both ESPN and everyone else - is upholding a double standard when it comes to racists statements.

This isn't about whether or not slave owners bred their slaves to create superior physical specimens. Suggesting that is what got Jimmy The Greek fired and vilified nearly 20 years ago. For me, it's about perpetuating stereotypes and even worse, taking something away from accomplished athletes by turning it into a biology conversation. What Irvin said, unintentionally or not, turned Romo's success into genetics instead of the countless hours of work he has undoubtedly logged to get where he is today. This is the same crap as when Larry Bird was always referred to as a "smart player" while Dr. J was a "great athlete."

The fact of the matter is, some of these guys can run faster and jump higher than others. Some of them are black, some are not. Some people are tireless workers, while others rely on physical gifts. But in the end, everyone you see on the field on Saturday and Sunday, or the basketball court or baseball diamond, is a phenomenal athlete that got where they are through a ton of sweat.

So Michael Irvin saying yet another dumb thing, is in essence insulting Romo's effort and his family. Maybe Romo's great-great-great grandma did "pull one of them studs out of the barn" but maybe she didn't and get this: it's possible that great athletic genes can come from white people too.

I think the thing that gets me really fired up about this - aside from Irvin being a jackass - is that I don't expect anything to happen to Irvin. And I suspect if Dan Patrick had said the same thing, he would have faced serious consequences. The idea that it's OK to saying something about a race because you are of that race, is ridiculous. And for Irvin, it's irresponsible. But I guess not any more irresponsible than the hookers and crack. So there's that.

So get ready for nothing to happen. But if there is backlash, you can bet U alum/apologist Dan LeBatard will be right there to explain why it was OK for Irvin to say what he said.


Notes From Night 1 of the Free Trial of NBA Season Pass

For the last few years, one of the best parts of November is that in conjunction with the start of the NBA season, DISH Network has a week-long free trial of the NBA Season Pass. After flipping through close to a dozen games, $180 for the season doesn't seem so bad. I'm holding out for now but I'm not sure I'll be able to last the entire trial without hitting the "buy" button.

Anyway, on to what I saw with my channel flipping in not particular order . . .
  1. Amare Stoudemire looks pretty damn good for a guy playing on one leg. ESPN showed a graphic of other notable players who had microfracture surgery and about half of them never really returned to the level they were at before surgery. Talented players like Terrell Brandon, Kerry Kittles, Anfernee Hardaway all had their promising careers derailed by the same surgery Stoudemire had. However, that Stoudemire is so young has to work in his favor and in some perverse way, I can almost see this making him a better basketball player. In the first half of the game against the Clips tonight, he dominated and he only tried to dunk once (which he missed). While he works to get his knee back to pre-surgery, I suspect he will learn lots of the veteran tricks of the trade and he will have to rely on skills over athleticism. It's a transition most players go through - you saw it with people like Dr. J and Jordan, and you can already see a hint of it with LeBron. Anyway, Amare looks strong so far and I hope he keeps it up and stays healthy.
  2. Is the new ball messing with free throws? Lebron already started his free throw line slide last season but he started the 2006-2007 campaign an unimpressive 2-6 from the stripe. Solid free throw shooter Rip Hamilton was 4-6 before finishing 9-12. Career 79% shooter Paul Pierce was 7-15. U-G-L-Y.
  3. Meanwhile, all stop and bow to free throw guru Don Nelson. By announcing that playing time would be given out based on who could hit free throws, 67% career shooter Baron Davis shot nearly 90% in the preseason and is 6-8 from the line through three quarters tonight.
  4. If my jumpshot looked as ugly and bricked as hard as Shawn Marion's, I would hide it from the public. Marion is an outstanding player and his three point shooting percentage is respectable but he is 10 times the threat inside 18 feet than he is outside it - not to mention the fact that in Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, James Jones - not to mention the Polish Rifle, Eric Piatkowski - the Suns have a couple guys who can shoot it from deep.
  5. Despite stealing the font from the previous generation of Houston Rockets uniforms, the Milwaukee Bucks new unis look pretty sweet . . . even on human chihuahua Charlie Villenueva.
  6. Apparently there is no one that can stop Lakers Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum . . . except Kobe. I can't wait to see how that blows up when the Black Mamba returns (although I'm sure Kobe scoring 40 over and over again will be part of the plot).
  7. Shockingly, the Bulls run at 82-0 was ended. During game two. Against Orlando. I still think the Bulls are a high-energy, deep team but perhaps all the breathlessness after their squashing of the defending champs on opening night was a little premature. I still think they are a very good team but they have no go-to guy which will hurt them down the road. This is probably the time when they should go get The Big Ticket - when they can trade three young talents and not even miss them.
  8. Rookies are making a strong showing. Tyrus Thomas sat out tonight's game after breaking his nose in a solid debut last night and teammate Thabo Sefolosha is averaging 12 ppg in his first two games. Adam Morrison scored 14 in 32 minutes off the bench - and didn't cry (at least not while I was watching). Laptop thief Marcus Williams had 7 points, 8 boards and 8 dimes for the Nets. Rudy Gay scored 21 and grabbed 8 rebounds off the bench - not that there's anything wrong with that - and the infamous Renaldo Balkman had 4 boards in 8 minutes. Brandon Roy scored 20 as a starter for the Blazers.
This just in . . . neither Stephen Jackson or Sebastian Telfair shot anyone (or had anyone shot) last night. As far as I know.

Why I Love Football

I love football. But not the football you're probably thinking of. I love the football that millions of people around the world love. My "world champions" aren't from a 32-team field watched by 130 million people, but from a 32-team field of athletes representing their country. How many viewers? Close to 30 BILLION.

Why am I willing to wake up as early as 7 am on a Saturday morning to watch a match halfway around the world? Sure, soccer players are just as nuts as NFL players. Wayne Rooney is a perfect example. Roo-naldo is about half an ear less crazy than Mike Tyson.

But, psychoses aside, soccer is 90 minutes of adrenaline-filled action. It's not 1st down.. pause... 2nd down... pause... 3rd down... etc. It's constant go-go-go. It's not AFC vs. NFC. It's the Premiership, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, and on and on.

Developmental leagues are way beyond minor league affiliates. In the European leagues, the teams in last place get demoted. The teams who finish first in the next level down move up to the big time. Players have to play as a team, otherwise the whole team is penalized. It's not every man for himself.

And the goals... oh... the goals. There's nothing more spectacular than a Rooney half-volley from outside the keeper's box. (ignore the music, someone got a little excited about you-tubin' it) Even the most mundane game has moments of brilliance that keep you on the edge of your seat.

But what truly makes soccer great? The fans! Sure, Oakland has their crazy silver and black bunch who get dressed up and yell and scream. But, do they chant little ditties like:
You are my Solskjaer, (read sol-scar)
My Ole Solskjaer,
You make me happy,
When skies are grey,
And Alan Shearer, Was f*cking dearer,
So Please don't take, My Solskjaer, Away.....

Sing that one to the tune of You Are My Sunshine. Classic. Here's one when Manchester United plays their crosstown rivals, Man City:

If I had the wings of a sparrow,
If I had the arse of a crow,
I'd fly over Maine Road tomorrow,
And shit on the bastards below, below,
Shit on, shit on,
Shit on the bastards below, below,
Shit on, shit on,
Shit on the bastards below.

You're the shit of Manchester,

You're the shit of Manchester.


Admittedly, I am a Manchester United fan - for the unschooled, it's like being a Yankees fan. But, as with just about every true soccer fan around the world, I appreciate the joga bonita from every team in every country. It's a uniting factor in so many cultures, something for people to relate to - what could possibly be wrong with that?

For a little extra enjoyment, watch this. Make sure you wait for the music.

Ever Wonder Why Teams/Leagues Struggle?

I think it's because, for the most part, the people who own them are freakin' morons. I've jumped on Steinbrenner before - perhaps even unfairly singling him out. The latest entry in the growing list of moronic owners is the Minnesota Timberwolves' Glen Taylor. He gave an interview to Britt Robson of the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, brilliantly summarized by TrueHoop (so you can skip right to the extra dumb parts).

As I read Taylor's comments I'm struck by one thought . . . Oh. My. God. Shut the hell up! One often overlooked epidemic of modern day sports is that people seem to get into ownership because they are fans and they are attracted to the status and/or the idea of playing fantasy basketball/football/baseball on the highest level. It is increasingly rare to see ownership that is focused on the things a business person should be focused on - building an organization with value, finding better ways to serves your customers, and ultimately, increasing the bottom line (or at least the value of your operation). Some owners win. Some owners increase the bottom line. But the number who do it without mucking around in the personnel side of the business is staggering.

The examples are many and the results are frequently bad: The Atlanta Hawks ownership's civil war, Taylor's under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith, and of course, Steinbrenner (post your favorite George meddling job in the comments . . . Irabu? Contreras?). Daniel Snyder. Mark Cuban. Along with Steinbrenner, both have increased the value of their respective franchises exponentially but you could still argue that inserting themselves in personnel matters has cost their teams on their fields/courts of play.

If I were Kevin McHale, especially because I apparently didn't want this job in the first place and would prefer to drag my knuckles on the forest floor while hunting, I would quit over this. Who likes it when their boss questions - or maybe exposes - their work ethic? Or makes vague comments that could lead someone to believe that you molested male model and part time basketball player Wally Szczerbiak? Or read about how he sold a former employee (Flip Saunders in this case) down the river? Run Kevin! Run!

I'm rambling. All I'm trying to say is this . . . like any other business, if the owner/CEO can find the right people and let them do their jobs, they will be successful. Trying to do everyone else's job, as proven time and time again - in sports and in the rest of the business world - does not work. Period.


Kentucky Kid wins World Championship

Nicky Hayden won the 2006 MotoGP World Championship yesterday. For those of you that follow ball sports instead of motor sports, allow me to fill you in. MotoGP is the top class of motorcycle racing in the world. In most civilized countries motorcycle racing is as popular as say, nacho cheese is here in the U.S.; so winning the championship is a big deal.

The championship came down to the final race yesterday in Valencia; Nicky led the championship points most of the season. His opposition, 7 time world champion Valentino Rossi had a number of mechanical problems and general bad luck that conspired to put him 50 points behind in the championship mid-season. Rossi fought back in the second half - two weeks ago in Portugal he was a mere 12 points behind Nicky.

What happened next absolutely stunned the motorcycle community. Nicky's own teammate - Spanish rider and former 250cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa T-Boned Nicky just a few laps into the race at Portugal, taking them both out of the race and erasing the 12 point lead for his teammate. Rossi pushed on to take second at Portugal, beat by literally inches by normally mid-pack Toni Elias. Which left Rossi 8 points ahead going into the final race at Valencia.

The stage was set for an epic battle, Nick had to finish several places ahead of Valentino to make up the 8 point deficit and win the championship. The record crowd at Valencia watched as Rossi and Hayden rubbed elbows at the start. Nick got an excellent start and worked his way to 2nd by lap 4, when Valentino uncharacteristically crashed out of 7th place. Rossi rejoined the race in 20th (last) place and fought his way back up to 13th. Meanwhile Nick stuck himself in 3rd place; fans held their breath for the remaining laps. Cameras showed both of Nicks parents with their fingers crossed for the last few laps. In the end, Nick finished 3rd and won the championship by a slim 5 points.

So mighty congratulations to the Kentucky Kid from Owensboro. Great job Nick!

For more information see Superbike Planet or Motorcycle Daily, and hey, why not watch the MotoGP championship next year?


The Big Bad Wolf: A Partial Response to Bosox3458

Is the big, bad wolf scary because he's a wolf?


Presumably, the woods through which Little Red Riding Hood traipses so carelessly are full of wolves, making this particular wolf especially imposing not in his wolfness, but in his bigness and badness. He is the exception to the rule of the general acceptability of wolves.

By emphasizing the Big Bad Wolf (henceforth, BBW) in our mythical parlance, we create an object of derision which eases the fear we might feel by contemplating the existence of wolves as a group, all of which would more than likely eat our grandmothers given the chance. Another way of saying this is that the BBW is a scapegoat.

Hang with me, sports fans...I'm getting there.

I only today saw the footage from the Miami/FIU game. It is, of course, shameful. More shameful still is the glacial and inadequate response on the part of the University of Miami and NCAA Football. The former I was surprised to see; the latter, I was not.

This fiasco reminds me of another which took place a few years back, during which an otherwise reasonable man named Mike Tyson took a Big-Mac-size bite out of Evander Holyfield's ear. I remember the shock and revulsion that followed, unanimously and without irony, from every corner of the sports and extra-sports world. "How could such a transgression be tolerated?" pundits clucked around the country. It was a greater sin, it seemed to me, than the rape of a woman.

But the reaction to Tyson's late nite bite wasn't the problem. Commentators who took issue with it were, of course, in tune with the general public's disgust. But the indignant surprise that such a thing could happen and the implicit agreement that the normal state of boxing as a sport was just fine I found sickening. I'm no pacifist (at least, I don't think I am), but I say if you create a sport that caters to (at best) a working-class group of young people, give them few other options, train them in essence to be killers (gloves and headgear notwithstanding), and glorify every life-threatening hit they deliver what you get is, in a word, gladiators. To say that Tyson biting Holyfield rather than delivering him his umteenth case of the dizzies is barbaric is to have both an uninformed definition of the word and an unhealthy piousness for the sanctity of "the rules." Tyson, to sum up, became the BBW, and boxing went ahead newly chaste.

I'm no fan of the U. In fact, Miami is probably my least favorite college football team, largely for the same reasons outlined so capably by BoSox 3458 and because I think Michael Irvin is an absolute caricature of himself. But to look at what happened last week as an aberration rather than the logical outcome of a formula is to pin the BBW on Miami and let college football as a whole off the hook. I worked in college football for two years, and it's a cesspool. Backhanded dealings, the erasure of the "student" portion of "student-athlete," perks which morph quickly into entitlements, and expectations the likes of which none of us who is not a college football athlete could meet: and this was 1-AA! With the NCAA, you have a business masquerading as an educational organization, the equivalent of calling Microsoft the computer club. This facade allows a number of otherwise reputable institutions to take in ridiculous sums of money on the backs of its own set of gladiators who, like all gladiators, are given few options. And, since this is football, they are trained to hit people as hard as they can, to seek advantage when no one is looking, and, finally, to make a name for themselves. The idea is that if everyone does this individually, the team will become fearsome.

Well, mission accomplished, and there's no doubt that Miami and Larry Coker have much, perhaps more than anyone else in the sport, to answer for. But let's not allow this moment to pass without interrogating the nature and status of college football as a whole. Yes, Miami is a joke, but to call many of these young men college students is a bigger joke. And the biggest joke is to join in the chorus of shocked and horrified pundits who point at Miami and thank goodness that the "rules" don't permit this sort of thing. I'm not saying that football shouldn't be violent. I'm saying that we don't get to be sanctimonious when it gets real.

Battle of the Blowups: Green vs. Mora

Watching the Dennis Green press conference was pretty entertaining. And the entertainment value grew when I read this morning that Green had replaced his Offensive Coordinator (he's looking for something else within the organization for him) Keith Rowen.

As good as it was on the press conference meltdown scale, it didn't even come close to topping my personal favorite - then Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Jim Mora. His nasally rant was the rant of a generation. While Green's was good, it has a long way to go to approach Mora status. Press conference meltdown immortality hinges on a memorable and mockable catch phrase (i.e. "Playoffs?"). Green's shot might be his "You want to crown 'em, then crown their ass!" It's nice but doesn't get to the point as well as "Playoffs?"

As I was creating this post, I was surfing around to some of my usual favorite reads and saw that The Big Lead was already all over this comparison - actually beat me to it by a full day. They also have pulled the Calipari-Cheney fight out of the archives which isn't in the same category but is worth a look nonetheless.

Dennis Green or Jim Mora: Which Rant Rules? [The Big Lead]
Dennis Green Has Solved the Cardinals' Problems [Kissing Suzy Kobler]


Beware the Digital Underground

In case you missed it, yesterday blogs and 55 Problems fav Deadspin came under fire in an internal ESPN memo to radio affiliates. The memo, which you can see in part here, explained that per "ESPN editorial policy" the use of "underground" sites (read: blogs) and Deadspin in particular as a source of credible information is strongly discouraged. Anything I could possibly say in response to that ridiculous sentiment has already been said and then some in the Deadspin comments for that post. I encourage you to read all of them (currently 313 of them - my favorites were the Digital Underground references).

Anyway, I decided I could contribute to this situation without posting my "take" on the secret police, synergistic, cross-promoting methods of ESPN, by making these wonderful blog warning messages available to bloggers everywhere. I encourage you to download these (animated versions below) and place them on your own sites. I plan on taking extreme pride in my lack of credibility and I hope you do too. Special thanks to 55 Problems contributor Meg-han for the stellar graphics (perfect for the situation).

Coming To You Live From The "Underground" [Deadspin]

Al Davis and Bob Barker

I had the good fortune to attend the Broncos/Raiders game on Sunday night, tagging along with a friend who was tagging along with someone who actually had suite tickets to the game. Suites are, well, sweet, and it's a good thing the beef tenderloin was good because the football was rotten.

The next morning, as I sipped my coffee and avoided work, I caught the tail end of The Price is Right. They were doing the Showcase Showdown, the classic final battle between two hurrendously T-shirt clad TV junkies for what can only be termed "fabulous prizes." In this case, the prizes were actually pretty fabulous, including a NEW CAR and a trip to Australia. But I digress.

As I was watching Bob dole out the goodies, I suddenly made a connection between the Raiders and TPIR...they're both the result of a longstanding commitment to a formula attached to an aging patriarch.

Bob Barker IS The Price is Right. When he's gone, it's gone. There's no question about it. And the fact that all the staging on the show is pretty much the psychedelic same as it was in 1976 (do they have that color green in stores anymore?) shows the degree to which the producers understand the comforting function the show performs in households around the country. In a word, everything's crazy, but I still have Bob and his big, beeping wheel. You find TPIR, and you know it's almost time for lunch.

I wouldn't say that Al Davis IS the Raiders in the same way, but I think he certainly feels he is. In much the same way doublenicks sees George Steinbrenner as self-defeating in his largesse, Al Davis is tragic in his self-aggrandisement. While Bob Barker still trots himself out there into the limelight and gamely allows hysterical consumers to dig in his pockets, Davis sits in darkness with pursed lips.

No one's afraid of the Raiders anymore. But they still employ bad boys like Randy Moss, Warren Sapp and Robert Gallery and they still commit more penalties than a prison work crew. But rather than facemasks and late hits, it's false starts and illegal formations. The ethic behind Just Win, Baby is one of all out war, of victory no matter what the cost. It's a formula that no longer works and hasn't for a long time because the Raiders can't get out of their own way.

The formula, I think, will remain in place as long as Davis is around. The facade of being the league's pariah is the only marketing option the Raiders have left, but I wonder if even their fans believe it anymore.

Is Steinbrenner Retarded? [55 Problems]


Miami is a Joke

Over the years, there have been many instances where either current or former Miami players have gotten in trouble. The brawl on Saturday between Miami and Florida International University is just another instance. 31 players, 13 from Miami and 18 from FIU were suspended. But the ACC is not doing enough to discipline Miami. The game should have been forfeited and players such as safety Brandon Meriweather and Anthony Reddick should be dismissed. Reddick, who was suspended indefinitley for swinging his helmet like a weapon at FIU players, could have killed someone. Merriweather has had legal issues before when he fired shots at someone who shot at a teammate of his.

Larry Coker should be fired for losing control of the program; remember, back in January, Miami and LSU were invovled in a brawl after Miami was trounced in the Peach Bowl. Coker also recruited Willie Williams who does not attend the school anymore after being dismissed; Williams had an extensive criminal record. At the beginning of the season, wide reciever Ryan Moore and tailback Tyrone Moss were among the many suspended for incidents. Moore was suspended and has not played in any games this year after an altercation with a female on campus. Moss was suspended for violating "team policy."

Back in 2005, a 2-year-old recording surfaced on the internet, a rap that was profanity-laced and insults women and minorities. "A group calling itself the 7th Floor Crew - the name reportedly comes from the seventh floor of the Mahoney Residential College, campus housing at Miami - made a recording referencing multiple acts of group sex, derogatory terms for women and minorities and dozens of curse words that lasts approximately 9 minutes. School officials say the song was recorded two years ago, but that seems to offer little solace." (espn.com)

It is known that many football players lived on the 7th floor of that dorm.
Players such as Michael Irvin and Sean Taylor have come out of Miami and had NFL careers filled with run-ins with the law. Taylor was arrested in 2004 for a DUI and again in 2005 for aggravated assault with a firearm. In the 2006 NFL playoffs, he spit in a player's face and was fined. Michael Irvin has had drug problems and was at one point arrested for cocaine possesion along with possesion of other drugs.

It is unclear why Coker has not been fired even after all of the issues he has had with the program. Maybe they should Hire Joe Girardi to whip the players into shape...


One More Prediction for this Weekend

Bias known, I am a diehard Auburn fan. That said, historically, when the underdog, Auburn has performed brilliantly.

With a home night game and coming off an embarrassing loss to Arkansas and national chants of "Over-rated," Auburn will bounce back with a win against a self-infatuated Gators team.

Auburn 24, Florida 17

What do you say Meg-han? $20 on who wins??

Please weigh in.

Thinking About Lidle

There isn't much to say about Cory Lidle's death that hasn't already been said 100 times over on every news / sports / entertainment outlet. I hurt for his family, especially his kid, and to a lesser extent, the Yankees organization which is dealing with a very real loss in the most haunting fashion. I also think about the other "anonymous" people who were killed and I hope their loved ones know that people have them in their thoughts even though they weren't professional athletes.

But there is one thing my mind keeps coming back to that really has very little to do with this accident or Lidle's death. Lidle was a "scab" because he wanted to play baseball a decade ago when the players' union went on strike. I don't think I'm prepared to get into a discussion on if unions are a good or bad thing. My sense is that they are good, that they protect a group of people who have very little power and influence individually. When I say that, I'm thinking of carpetners or steel workers.

Baseball players need a union too. I mean, NFL players could really use one (you go, Bryant Gumbel!). The baseball players union is often identified as the most powerful union in sports and there was a time when its existence was absolutely necessary. But by the time Lidle crossed the line, the union was fighting basically to make sure anybody who made a major league roster would be a millionaire, that the economics of baseball would be forever screwed up (no salary cap - ask the NHL how that worked out for them), and so their players good juice and speed their way to record-breaking home run numbers. Hardly a noble fight in my opnion.

Because Lidle was a replacement player he, along with about a dozen other major leaguers (Cowboy Kevin Millar among them), were never permitted to join the union. Fine. But as recently as this summer, after Lidle made negative comments about his former team, the "scab" tag was thrown out by Arthur Rhodes.

It was 13 years ago. Who knows if Lidle regretted crossing the line. He may have if for no other reason than the pounds of shit he had to take over the years. But again, it was 13 years ago. How many people would like to be judged based on one event 13 years prior? Lidle was following his dream to play professional baseball. He eventually made it to the big leagues and was a good enough pitcher that he was always wanted - he played for seven teams and was involved in two midseason deals - over his nine professional seasons.

Shouldn't his consistiency, accomplishments, and skills have been enough for him to shed the "scab" tag? I think it's time to let it go.

R.I.P. Cory Lidle.


Is Steinbrenner Retarded?

Each of the last several autumns in Boston, there is one day when the city breathes a collective sigh of relief . . . the day the New York Yankees are eliminated from the postseason. That may seem like sour grapes to some - the Sox were eliminated several weeks before on the heels of a miserable August and only slightly better September after all - but it's more about not having listen to talk of a 27th World Championship. At least for one more year.

Now that I've had a few days to reflect on the Tigers' three straight victories to knock the Yankees out, I'm a bit shocked that we all didn't see this coming a mile away. And the even better question is: Why didn't Steinbrenner, for all his supposed business savvy, see it coming?

You've all met this person somewhere along the way in your lives. The person who gains status - or thinks they do - by spending more than everyone else. The attitude of "I paid more, therefore it must be better." Well, that's the Yankees.

I know people chuckle when the Red Sox say that they can't compete financially with the Yankees. That seems like a ridiculous sentiment coming from the team with the second highest payroll in baseball. But think about it another way . . . the difference between the Yankees and Red Sox payrolls (approximately $200M to $130M) is several times larger than the difference between the Red Sox and the next highest team. Even though the Red Sox are out-spending 28 teams, the Yankees are spending more than 50% more to field their team.

And a scary-looking team it was. Current or former all stars in every spot in the line up. Hitting at he top of the order Derek Jeter hit .343. At the bottom of the order Robinson Cano hit .342. In the middle they had the rejuvenated Jason Giambi (I'm sure he's clean now) hit 37 HR and Alex Rodriguez, a player who by all accounts has experienced a horrific, half-season-long slump, somehow managed to hit 35 HR, drive in 121 RBI and post a .914 OPS. And don't forget Jesus turned Judas Johnny Damon, who hit a career-high 24 HRs.

And yet they lost three straight games to a Tigers team that did everything they could to erase the gigantic lead they had built up. How can that be?

Well, here's the thing, King George spends a lot of money but he spends it as if it is in limitless supply. And when you do that, you might get the player you want, but you don't get good value on those players. Think about how the Yankees have been going about their business. They identify established superstars and then out-bid the competition - occasionally only bidding with themselves. A perfect example is Damon, who they were able to sign because they offered him more years than the Red Sox did. That's fine for one or two players who you may feel are that missing piece, but the Yankees do that a lot.

Aside from the expense of this tactic, the Yankees are also suffering because they are bringing players who are on their way down performance-wise rather than on their way up. You can say what you want about Josh Beckett's difficult first season in a Red Sox uniform but I don't think there is a reasonable baseball mind out there who doesn't believe that his best years are ahead of him. On the other hand, how many people expected the 40+ Randy Johnson to be as good or better than he was earlier in his career.

Think if it were real estate. How would you feel if you bought a house at a price that equated to $200 per square foot only to find out that everyone else in the neighborhood paid about $120 per square foot? You'd feel like you got screwed and no one would accuse you of being a business genius. Yet year after year, that is exactly what Steinbrenner does - or rather forces an otherwise competent General Manager, Brian Cashman, to do - all the while being lauded for how much he wants to win.

As if that weren't enough, the Yankees also seem to over-spend in the wrong place. Their star-studded lineup averaged 5.7 runs per game this season. I'm sure there is a sabermatician out there somewhere who could give me a formula for this but I can't imagine that it would have cost them even five victories had they average 5 runs a game (120 runs less for the season). And if they had reappropriated the money and improved their pitching, I suspect they would have won even more games by reducing their team ERA by 0.25 runs per game.

The thing that I don't understand is how the Yankees could have lived the formula for success and then suddenly forgotten it. Between 1996 and 2000, the Yankees won four out of five World Series with home-grown talent like Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada (who, if Kenmore Square t-shirts are to be believed, "smells like pee"), Mariano Rivera, Ramiro Mendoza, and consummate team players like Scott Brosious and Tino Martinez. They made it look easy . . . keep your core of young players together and bring in veterans and SOME superstars to help them along. Those teams were automatic.

But somewhere along the line it's as if Steinbrenner traveled back in time to his old meddling ways and his organization has paid the price. As a Red Sox fan, I love it. I really loved watching my team embarrass the Yankees and win the series in 2004, but watching the Yankees try to figure out how they lost is a more than adequate offseason diversion.

It seems clear as day now. If the Yankees are to get back to POSTSEASON prominence, Steinbrenner needs to stay the hell out of the way and let his baseball people do their jobs. I guess the good news for Yankee Haters everywhere is that seems like the most unlikely scenario.

Enjoy the ALCS, George. Nice turtleneck.


Garciaparra Returns To Form

As a Red Sox fan, I was a big fan of Nomar Garciaparra in the glory years of 1997-2000. And after he got hurt - and before I was suspicious of his ripped Sports Illustrated cover appearance - I viewed his return to the Sox as the baseball messiah coming back to lead his charges.

Of course, it didn't really work out that way. Instead his wrist injury robbed him of some of the thunder in his historically quick bat. In 1999 and 2000, undeniably his best seasons, Nomar had an OPS (on baase + slugging percentages) of 1.021 and 1.033, respectively. After returning from injury in 2002 and 2003, his OPS was .880 and .869, respectively (despite averaging 26 HR and 112 RBI in those two seasons). Even worse for him, the Sox front office regime change placed immense value on plate patience and on base percentage - something Nomie wasn't known for - and many of the Fenway Faithful followed suit. His penchant for swinging at the first pitch (and popping up), regardless of how good it was, earned him the not-so-flattering nickname "Garciapopup." If you read Feeding The Monster, you are well aware of the ensuing sour contract talks, the paranoia, the sulking, and if resident jackass Dan Shaughnessey is to be believed, the moment the Red Sox decided to trade Nomar (as if it hadn't been a long and agonizing decision mulled for weeks and months before it happened) in 2004.

Of course, the fall just continued for Nomar after that. His numbers were decent enough but he couldn't stay on the field with the Cubs and they let him walk after 2005 was over. It got so bad that Nomar had to do a sales job to even get signed by the Dodgers this season.

Well, count me among the happy ones when Nomar came out swinging this year. I remember looking at the boxscores one day in June and seeing that he was hitting .360-something - a region he had not reached since his sick 2000 season - and delivering clutch hit after clutch hit. "Good for him," I thought. And I'm sure I wasn't alone in the Boston area. I think lots of people missed the old Nomar and had a soft spot for him and the Sox West team Dodgers GM Ned Colleti had assembled. Nomar fought some nagging injuries as the season progressed, playing in 122 games, and his April, May and June were demonstratively better than his July, August and September. But overall, the numbers were strong - .303 batting average, 20 HR, 93 RBI and a very impressive 42 walks against just 30 strikeouts. Guys who play regularly (500 plate appearances) don't strike out just 30 times in a season anymore. Joe Dimaggio did it (he struck out 13 times in 617 plate appearances in 1941 - that guy didn't stink) but that's pretty good company. In 2006, no major league player with at least 500 plate apperances struck out as few times as Nomar and only Juan Pierre struck out less frequently (Ks per PA).

Fast forward to Game 1 of the NLDS in Shea Stadium this evening. Trailing, 6-4, going into the 9th, the Dodgers manage to get a run off barely-hittable Mets closer Billy Wagner. With two out and a runner on second, Nomar has a chance to tie the game. I sat up to watch it.

Wagner fired two wicked fastballs past him to get out to an 0-2 count. At least Nomar hadn't wildly swung at the first pitch right? Maybe he is a different, more disciplined hitter now.

The third pitch is going nearly 100 mph toward the outside corner and Nomar manages to foul it off. Still has that bat speed.

The next pitch was a breaking ball (still pretty hard coming out of Wagner's hand) up near his head. Ball one. I've seen him swing - and hit those. ESPN cuts to manager Forrest Gump chewing on his tongue or whatever the hell he does (I'm not bitter, why do you ask?).

The fifth pitch is low. Didn't miss by much. The count is 2-2. Is he waiting for his pitch? Could he actually walk?

A quick aside . . . Red Sox fans are feeling pretty miserable these days. Our team went from first place to out of it in about a week. August was the worst month by a decent team that I can remember. And despite all that, there was some uncharacteristic optimism in The Nation when Varitek and Nixon came back and they started to win a little in September. Well, it didn't last and with no postseason baseball in Boston, there is a void. Nomar could fill that void for us. We could root for him - our old homey, Nomie - and his Dodgers.

This is getting exciting. Come on Nomar, lace one of those patented gap doubles and tie this thing.

Wagner's next pitch bounced in front of the plate.

Garciaparra swung.

He missed. Game over.

I think Nomar is back . . . it's just not the version I thought it was.


TO Needs a TO

OK, let's talk about this Terrell Owens suicide thing. . . Deadspin wrapped up today's TO Circus with an excellent post today that asked the real Kim Etheredge to please stand up. Essentially, it asks who is lying: the friend and colleague who called 911 terrified that Owens was trying to kill himself or the PR assassin who denied everything and returned to the "reaction to medication" story when the camera lights are on.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know everything - or even one damn thing - but when I look at it in that light, I can't see any possibility other than that Owens actually tried to kill himself. At the minimum, he was extremely convincing to someone who must know him, his antics, and his moods - and how to spin them - extremely well.

Suicide is a scary topic. Most people have probably been touched by it in some way - either knowing someone who killed themselves - or tried to - or because they have had their own feelings of wanting to escape (by a show of hands, how many of you have been feeling bad enough about your life that you've considered driving off the side of the road - the feeling of knowing you could do it and there would be no going back . . . for the record, my hand is raised). And people look at athletes now and think they have it all - money, fame, freakish athletic talent - and wish they could have just a sliver of that life. How much better would that be than the job that doesn't pay you what you deserve, the house you can't really afford? Owens has all that and he's unhappy? Bullshit.

Well, the fact is, depression and suicidal thoughts have nothing with money or fame or freakish athletic talents. I mean, sure, TO could have not been such a huge dick all these years (I'm an Eagles fan, FYI), but it can't be easy having everyone hate your guts. It is socially acceptable to say TO is a selfish athlete who represents everything that is wrong with sports today. Even if it's true - they say suicide is a selfish act - Is that easy to hear about yourself? Blasted on ESPN and ESPN 2, ESPN Radio, ESPN Mobile, and ESPN The Magazine (and the Ocho). Knowing ESPN it's probably even in the small print on the back of the ESPN credit card (man those fuckers are getting annoying with their cross-promoting aren't they?).

So even though suicide is a sensitive and even painful topic, let's be honest . . . there are ways in which you can kill yourself without a doubt, and ways you can try to kill yourself. People who want to be dead jump off bridges, hang themselves, or put bullets in their brains. People who want attention - and maybe are willing to die to get it - take lots of pills.

There. I said it. I think - once again - TO is trying to get attention. I may come across as a cynic (in this post and in real life) but generally speaking, I think I'm a pretty positive person. I don't think that TO staged a suicide attempt to get attention. But I do think getting attention was the goal, not dying. Some may say he loves himself too much to kill himself. I don't think that's quite it. I think he feels pretty good about himself, but it seems pretty clear to me that he needs a lot of people agreeing with him before he'll really believe it.

I'm not going to get to hung up on specifics - just going on recollection here - but when did it start? In San Francisco, Owens wanted to prove he was no one's bitch, not even the greatest receiver of all time and future Dancing with the Stars celebrity - Jerry Rice - was better than him. Then after he practically ran the San Francisco treat out of town - with his talent, to be fair - any ball not thrown to him was a problem. He was a great player then and you gameplan around your superstars. He had 20 catches in a game - 20! But that wasn't enough validation for him either. He wants out of San Fran so he argues with his coach in front of the cameras and calls his QB gay (Pick your joke here . . . A) hey, he was bound to be right one of the times he opened his mouth or B) Takes one to know one). He openly lobbies for a trade to the Eagles (as do various Eagles players - McNabb included . . . think he regrets that?) and when he gets traded to Baltimore he cries foul claiming contract irregularities. Frankly, he's lucky that Ray Lewis' entourage didn't stab him over that ordeal. That opens the doors for a trade to Philly where everything is right with the world, right?

Honestly, it seemed so. He was amazing that first season until he got hurt. Then the Eagles kept winning and when Owens came back for the Super Bowl, he was amazing again (I'm not prepared to go into the whole "what was up with McNabb?" thing here). And to this point TO's antics to this point were garden variety pompous athlete stuff. Yeah, he was bad, but he wasn't any worse that anyone else.

Enter Drew Rosenhaus.

I'm not going to go all Bryant Gumble on yo' ass but I will admit that NFL contracts heavily favor the team/owners. Players are expected to honor their contracts while teams routinely cut players before having to pay them on their back-ended deals. Truth be told, I sometimes find myself conflicted when players (like Dieon Branch) hold out for more money, and I am definitely more sympathetic to those who have attained superstar status while earning the league minimum or close to it (like Branch).

But Owens had just got his big contract the year before and now it wasn't big enough. Why? Drew Rosenhaus.

Listen, I loved Jerry Maguire so I'm not going to sit here and say all sports agents are scum. I mean, crazy Tom Cruise was Rod Tidwell's Ambassador of Kwan even if he was just pretending. But even excusing Rosenhaus of his reputation, the whole situation stunk from the minute he arrived on the scene.

Here's the problem: Rosenhaus didn't get paid a dime on the contract Owens already had.

So Rosenhaus arrives and TO wants a new contract. And he says horrible things about his quarterback and nice things about Brett Farve (you'd think Favre would have given TO pointers on the whole abusing painkillers thing). And he kicks and screams and acts like an ass - no longer a garden variety ass - until he gets himself kicked out of Philly. Interesting strategy.

Rosenhaus still hasn't been paid at this point.

So TO goes to the Cowboys. Now Rosenhaus has been paid. Mission accomplished right?

Well, Bill Parcells is a lot of things but one this he isn't is dumb. He doesn't want TO so when the owner trumps him, I'm sure he resolved to stay the hell out of it. Conventional wisdom was that TO would have something to prove (didn't he always) and he would blow up and be a dominant force he was in preceding years but time 10 because he had been disrespected.

Instead he's injured all preseason. He's not the first vet to spend preseason on the bike to avoid two-a-days in August so we can give him a pass on that. But when it comes time to play, TO looks so good he makes Drew Bledsoe look good (until he demonstrates his inability to throw to the sideline and is picked off on the same throw for about the 2000th time). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you cheer for), he breaks his finger in the process.

Did Owens tried to kill himself because he broke his finger? Seems unlikely.

Did he try to kill himself because he's eclipsing Barry Bonds as the most hated man in sports? Seems more likely.

And who's fault is that. TO is a selfish, me-first asshole, so he certainly must be held accountable for that. But Drew Rosenhaus . . . he did what few defensive backs have been able to do over the past decade - he shutdown Terrell Owens - all for the love of money.

What an asshole.