Sunday, August 24, 2008


For 3 years the USA Men's Basketball team kept one goal: to win Olympic Gold. Anything less would be considered a failure. When people said it couldn't be done, they worked harder. After years of embarassment, Team USA needed to redeem themselves. Jerry Colangelo proved to be their savior. He stepped on board as the National Director of USA Basketball, and put together a team of stars he knew could coexist as one. Since their last victory in the Sydney Games of 2000, USA players had been criticized that they couldn't play together. It was perceived that their egos and shoe deals were of much higher importance to them than their country. But many NBA stars refused to fall into that stereotype. Colangelo found those stars, and brought them together in 2006 to save USA Basketball. Last night, their 3 year journey came to a close. But not until after their dream to redeem, had become a reality.

That reality didn't come easy though. It was a long commitment that asked USA players to give up their summers and offseasons. With the international level of competition as high as ever, Team USA could no longer get away with throwing a few stars together a couple weeks before the Olympics. The international teams had been playing together for years, and the international game was much different than the NBA game. For these reasons, the gap that had once separated USA teams from their opponents by 40 to 60 points was narrowed to 2 or 3.

But this year Team USA came out with a fire and a determination to prove themselves. They swept their pool and cruised past their quarter and semifinal matches. In those 7 games, they won by an average of 30.3 points per game. It appeared the US dominance was back. But there was still one more hurdle to leap. Team USA had to take down the World Champion, Spain. And they knew Spain would be out for revenge of Team USA's 37 point route of them just a week before.

Team USA was right. Spain did come to play. At one point both Spain and the US were shooting at around 70% from the field well into the first quarter. Both teams came out firing.

With Lebron and Kobe in foul trouble, Wade and Paul stepped up. Paul kept the offense moving. He found the open guys, got to the rim, and drew fouls. Wade was a spark off the bench as usual. He outhustled everyone and caught fire from the field.

Both teams went back and forth for the first half. Team USA found itself in its biggest deficit of the tournament, trailing by 5 at one point, but they always responded. The game really lacked any defensive play whatsoever. USA led 38-31 after one, and 69-61 at the half.

USA held a slim lead for most of the second half. Every time Spain made a run, USA responded. With just over 3 minutes remaining, Bryant converted a 4-point play that seemed to put the game out of reach. He held a finger to his lips, notioning to the raucous Spain crowd it was time to quiet down. Spain then answered with back-to-back baskets by Juan Carlos Navarro and Carlos Jimenez to cut the deficit to just 4 with two and half minutes to play. Wade countered with the final dagger, burying a 3 on the next possession. A few free throws later, Team USA finally felt that redemption. A redemption they worked three years for.

How might you ask did USA accomplish this feat of redemption? Teamwork. They all played with the same golden mindset: It's not the names on the back of our jerseys that matter, it's the 3 letters on the front.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Madden Curse...

To honor the release of Madden 09 today, I thought I'd address the issue of the curse. A curse so befuddling, you simply cannot help but believe it. Madden is probably hands down the best sports video game of all time. Year in and year out most of the American male population purchases the video game. I know guys over 40 that still play. It's a part of the game of football. It gives all of us guys out there that couldn't cut it in the NFL a chance to win the Super Bowl. It's America's video game. ESPN even made a TV show about a group of guys riding around in an RV just playing each other in Madden. That's pretty serious. It's the craze of the video game nation.

Thanks in part to the great successes of the game, it became a huge honor to make the cover of Madden for football players. If you were on the cover of Madden, you were obviously doing the right things the year before, and expected to have an equally successful upcoming season in the NFL. But as the hype of the game rose, the pressure to live up to the status as Madden cover model equally climbed. Insert: the curse. Since the arrival of Playstation 2, no player on the cover of Madden has lived up to their expectations. The honor has left player after player with ill-fated seasons and careers. Let's break them down.

2001: Eddie George

George was a Heisman trophy winner, the NFL Rookie of the Year, and a 4-time pro-bowler (1997-2000). He also led the Tennessee Titans to the Super Bowl in 2000. If you notice however, that Madden cover says 2001 under it. After he made the cover, George would go on to average almost 600 yards less a season than he had his first 5 years in the NFL. Injuries would plague him and his career would only last 4 more years. With his successes, went the success of the Titans. George would never make another Pro Bowl and lose all of his prestige.

2002: Daunte Culpepper

In 2001, Culpepper impressively led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, earning the cover honor. In 2002, Culpepper only managed to start 11 games in which he led the Vikings to a dismal 4-7 record. He missed the last 5 games with a season-ending injury. Daunte also managed to lead the league in interceptions with 23, even though he missed 5 games. Culpepper rebounded in 2003 & 2004, but met more ill-fate with injuries that have caused him to miss 30 games in the last 3 seasons. He's been on 3 different teams in the last 3 years and currently stands teamless.

2003: Marshall Faulk

Going into 2003, Faulk was the best player in the NFL. As the centerfold for the "Greatest Show on Turf", Faulk was practically untouchable. He was coming off four consecutive seasons of 1300+ rushing yards and 2000+ total yards. He had been to the Super Bowl in 2 of his last 3 seasons and won the NFL MVP in 2000. After his appearance on the cover, Faulk became troubled by some injuries and began to age before he healed. He never reached the 1000 yard rushing mark after he made it on the cover.

2004: Michael Vick

Vick is perhaps the biggest victim to the curse. Michael was the former #1 pick overall in the 2001 NFL Draft, but since has fallen quite a long way. He is far and away the most athletic quarterback to ever play the position. The man is unstoppable in the open field. When he turns on the jets, there is no defender that can catch him. However the Madden curse was somehow able to. Vick was always one to put his body on the line for the extra yard. A devotion coaches and fans thought might have more risk than reward. Just a few months after Vick took a previously under .500 Falcons team to the playoffs and past the Packers (GB's first career playoff loss at Lambeau),Vick found himself sidelined for 11 weeks with a broken leg. The break came one day after Madden 2004 had been released in stores. Since the injury, Vick has been good, but not great. On the field, his Falcons have fallen out of playoff contention the last few years and off the field, the Falcons woes are the least of Vick's worries. After pleading guilty to allegations of involvement in dogfighting, Vick finds himself in prison until 2009. He can only pray he gets reinstated to the NFL.

2005: Ray Lewis

In an attempt to end the curse, Madden decided to give the honor to the unbreakable Ray Lewis. Lewis was the most fearsome player in the NFL and considered indestructible at that time. But not even those credentials could save him from the curse. In 2004, Lewis' numbers dropped substantially. In 2005, the unbreakable Lewis tore his right hamstring and was forced to miss the final 10 games of the season. Since then, Lewis' play has declined and the Ravens defense is beginning to show signs of age and weakness.

2006: Donovan McNabb

Prior to his appearance on the cover of Madden, McNabb had it all. He had been selected to the Pro Bowl 5 consecutive years and had led the Eagles to the NFC Conference Championship 4 years in a row. He also had a near Super Bowl victory under his belt. But the man that had turned the Eagles franchise around fell victim to the curse as well. In 2005, fresh off his appearance on the cover, McNabb, a non-believer in the Madden curse, went down with a sports hernia in week 1. After fighting through the pain for 9 games, McNabb re-injured himself and finally decided it was best to take the safe route, opting for season-ending surgery. Culminate the injuries, with all the TO problems and Philadelphia's newfound lack of appreciation for their quarterback, and it is easy to see just how badly the curse hit Donovan.

2007: Shaun Alexander

Fresh off a season in which Alexander led the NFL in rushing (1880), set the record for most TDs in a single season (28), and made it to the Super Bowl, Shaun found himself on the cover of Madden. Shaun helped the curse stay true to form, breaking his leg in just the third week of the season. He missed 6 weeks and failed to rush for 1000 yards for the first time in 6 years. Since the injury, Alexander's skills have faded and he is currently left without a team to play for.

2008: Vince Young

Madden turned the tables again in '08, going with an elusive young quarterback for the cover. Known for his toughness, Young never missed a game due to an injury in high school, college, or the pros. But Madden caught up to the durable Young and sidelined him for a week in '07. Where the curse really hit Young the hardest though, was in his play. Vince threw only 9 TDs as oppposed to his 17 INTs. The Titans were also easily exited from the playoffs in the first round.

So yeah, it's been a rough road for the Madden cover models. Now Madden opens it's door to Brett Favre. Why do you ask? Because he was retired. There it was. The perfect answer to the curse. With Brett on the cover, the curse would be over. So what does Brett do? He un-retires from football. So far on the cover Brett has already tainted his career, ruined the prestige and respect he left with, and been turned down to play for the city that loved him dearly for so many years. And get this, now he's a Jet. The curse is laughing right now, because it knows this couldn't get any easier. Favre has really set himself up to keep the curse alive. Oh well EA Sports, maybe next year. I'd say put John Madden on the cover, but I fear something fatal might happen to him.

Images taken from Google Images

Monday, August 11, 2008

Who's Talking Now?

Last night I witnessed swimming history. I watched what most believe to be the greatest swimming relay of all-time. A race that featured five teams break the previous world record for the event. Five teams! A race where two teams shattered the mark. But only one was victorious. That team, was the U.S.A.

To kick off the match, the greatest swimmer of all-time, Michael Phelps, hit the water first for the U.S. Just an hour after Phelps had swam in a qualifier, he was forced to put his stamina and endurance to the test in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay. In the first 50 meters Phelps looked drained, but he turned on the jets on the way back, closing the gap behind the leader to practically nothing. Weber-Gale's turn was next. He did exactly what was expected of him, gaining the lead for the U.S. The third swimmer in the relay was Cullen Jones, the young, rising star for the U.S. He swam hard, but the French were too much. By the time he touched the wall he had fallen behind by roughly .60 seconds.

The final man to hit the water was Jason Lezak. He was matched up against one of the best in the world, Alain Bernard of France, who already held the .60 second lead mentioned earlier. The same man that had earlier made a statement about the Americans saying, "We're going to smash them. That's what we came here for". By the time Lezak made the turn at the wall, Bernard's lead had grown to .82 seconds. The announcer had already declared France the winner. There was nothing the U.S. could do. It was insurmountable.

But Jason Lezak was tired of losing. He refused to quit, as he desperately tried to catch the wave of Bernard. As they raced down the stretch I think myself and all of America watching found ourselves saying, "Come on. Go, go, go!", as Lezak slowly cut the gap on Bernard. The tension in my family room was on the rise, and I found myself nervous for a swimming match as it came to the closing seconds. Finally, trailing with only 5 meters left, Lezak was right there with Bernard needing an improbable surge for the Gold. He reached within himself and found just that in the last meter. Staring into the eyes of Bernard in the last moment, Lezak outstretched the Frenchmen, touching the wall just 8 hundredths of a second before Bernard. My family and I sat in silence for the second it took to put up United States with a #1 next to it in their lane. Once it was up, an outburst of celebration erupted in my family room. Many friends of mine found themselves screaming in joy. It was truely a unified American moment.

This race epitomized the Olympics at its best. This was why we watch. What a triumphant moment it was for America. The exuberance on Phelps' and the other swimmers' faces said it all. It was a feeling everyone watching in the States must have felt. I know I did. Let's hope the rest of the Olympics can be just as exciting and entertaining, and bring us more moments that make us feel proud to be an American.

Hey France, that just happened!

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Sunday, August 10, 2008

No Doubt About It...

As a fan of basketball and well, America, I hope today's opening round game for the U.S. Men's Basketball team was a sign of what's to come for the rest of the competition. A game that was close for awhile against China, turned into a 101-70 rout. For the U.S. to open up versus the Olympic host was a daunting task. China has a strong team and fans on their side. It was a game of great magnitude; a game China wanted to come out and take from the U.S.

While their hopes were conceivable at the start, Team USA quickly made them seem far too ambitious as the game carried on. China came out with something to prove, knocking down threes and holding the U.S. stars in check. But once Lebron and company got going, there was no looking back. When Jason Kidd took his first rest, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade came off the bench with a spark. They got the transition game going, leaving China in their dust. The U.S. run-n'-gun style offense was too much for the Chinese. It led to dunk after dunk for Team USA. With each slam, the U.S. got more and more confident and more and more amped. They refused to be embarassed.

The game featured a lot of flash. The "Flash" himself, D-Wade, completed many acrobatic plays, including a few exciting dunks en route to his game-high 19 points. The man that really stole the show though, was Lebron. King James was unstoppable. Playing alongside the best in the NBA gave Lebron the space to go to work. China couldn't afford to send double and triple teams at James, because his teammates were just as capable to hurt them. With a spread court, James got to the rim at will and finished with authority. The most authoritative coming as the recipient of an alley-oop from Wade in the second quarter. He put on a show on the defensive side as well. On a fastbreak for China, James hustled the length of the court to pin the layup attempt on the backboard. Later that quarter, on a shot block attempt, he actually caught the ball during its flight to the basket. As usual, Lebron was a man amongst boys.

But the real story was the job Team USA did as a whole. The 31 point victory against a talented Chinese squad was a great start to the games for the U.S. If the team can continue to keep its transition game running and their defensive pressure on, they should have a legitimate shot at the Gold. Round 1 of their shot at redemption was a success. The USA powerhouse appears to be back.

Images taken from Yahoo! Sports

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New York Lands a New Jet...

Well, I had no interest in talking about Brett Favre anymore, but he went out and did the one thing that could cause me to; he signed with the Jets. The most boring franchise in football made their most exciting move since acquiring Curtis Martin (not to overshadow their acquisition of Boomer Esiason in 1993). A move so exciting that 40,000 Favre jerseys were sold within 24 hours of the news (a new record). The acquisition of Favre does a lot for the organization. Here are some pros and cons.

The Pros:
1. The Marketing Aspect:
As mentioned earlier, over 40,000 jerseys were already sold in the first day. The Jets are bringing in one of the greatest, some would argue the best, quarterback of all-time. The move has rejuvenated the spirits of Jets fans, and has them looking forward to the upcoming season. I would be surprised to see any open seats at Jets games this year. It's the biggest marketing move they've made since acquiring Ian Eagle to announce.

2. The Potential for Success in the Present:
Let's face it. The Jets might have improved this year, but there was no way they were making the playoffs in the AFC with Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens battling it out for the starting job. They were either going to have an inexperienced, young QB leading their mediocre offense, or a QB with the arm strength of an 8-year-old. That's just not going to cut it. Now they bring in a quarterback with almost every career record at the position. A quarterback, that at this age, still came only 3 points shy of the Super Bowl last season. Oh, and he throws about 60 mph faster than Pennington and 61 yards farther (Favre's max 70 yards - Pennington's max 9 yards). Jets fans will no longer have to hold their breath when a safety has a chance to go from sideline to sideline during the flight of a pass to make an interception. Expect a much better year for the Jets than they would've had without Favre.

3. The Mentor Aspect:
No longer will Kellen Clemens have to listen to advice about how to hit the wide receiver on the short crossing route, dump it off to the fullback, or underthrow your receiver enough so that he can make a play on the ball before the cornerback. Now his advice will come from one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. That sounds like a better deal to me. The knowledge Favre gives Clemens could prove to make the move worth it no matter how badly Favre plays for the year. Favre is surely passed his physical peak in football, but his mental smarts are definitely still there.

The Cons:
1. The Playbook:
Let's see. We've already reached the preseason and Favre knows how many Jets plays? Zero. Memorizing a playbook is an extremely difficult task. Favre mastered the Packers playbook, because he had years to do so. On every play, the quarterback has to know every player's next move in order for the play to work. Sure Favre can hit his targets, but if his wide receivers are on different pages than him, the incompletions and interceptions should come a plenty. We'll have to see just how quick a learner Brett is. Especially since he was mentally strained enough to retire just five months ago.

2. Can he fit in Mangini's offense?:
Mangini structured his playbook around Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens. Brett Favre is pretty much the anti-Chad. Mangini is going to have to open up the safe and bring out the playbook featuring plays of 10+ yards. Then he has to teach them to the offense. At least he's got time to do that at training camp. Oh no wait, he doesn't. Hopefully, Brett won't slow them down too much.

3. The Chemistry:
Brett's team chemistry on the Jets consists of backup tight end Bubba Franks. That's pretty much about it. On the Packers, Brett had a rhythm with his receivers. He practically knew what moves his receivers would make before they did. He doesn't have that with the Jets. That's kind of a problem.

All in all, weighing both the pros and the cons, I'd say the pickup will do more good than harm for the Jets. As for Brett Favre, I think his decision to return to the NFL was a poor one. In my eyes, the whole ordeal has tainted his image. He left the toast of the town. Now everyone seems to be sick of him. Well, except Jets fans. The former Packer-for-life was turned down to play for that same franchise. Look for Favre to help the Jets win a few more games this year. It'll take a while for him to learn and get used to the system, but as the season moves along he'll help the Jets. It's also a great marketing tool for the Jets and Favre's knowledge should prove to be very valuable for the young Kellen Clemens.

Lastly, let's not forget about how stacked the AFC is. This isn't the NFC North Brett. I don't expect the Jets to make the playoffs. Their fairly weak schedule we'll give them a chance, but there's just too much competition. Additionally, Brett is on the cover of Madden. His re-entrance to the NFL has already set him up perfectly to keep the curse alive.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Monday, August 4, 2008

Manny Just Being Manny...

As much as I'm sure you'd love to read another article about Brett Favre, I refuse to grant you that luxury. I'm tired of turning on ESPN to see them talk about Favre's reinstatement to the NFL. For 3 days or so, the top story was that he might be reinstated. We get it. Brett Favre wants to come back. There's no need to put a 15 minute segment on each show for three days in a row, suggesting that its probably going to happen. Just let me know when he's actually reinstated. How about a highlight of some games instead of boring us with Favre talk? No? Okay, I guess that's cool. No wait, no it's not! I'd rather not have to wait for the BottomLine to cycle through all the scores, just so that it can go to a commercial and skip over the one score I want to see. But enough talk about Favre. The main goal of this post is to let that story be. I'm hear to talk about the laziest player in baseball: Manny Ramirez.

Manny has crushed my hopes on countless occasions against the Yankees, but I still can't help but laugh when I see the guy. His antics are ridiculous. He's the only player that can get away with his sometimes pathetic play. For years Red Sox coaches brushed off Manny's questionable behavior, because he seemed to do more good than harm to the organization. He was in control in Boston, which he made very obvious this week.

With the trade deadline approaching, Manny decided he wasn't happy with the way things were going in Boston. So he decided he wanted to be traded. To make sure it happened, Ramirez showed Boston he wasn't going to try if they kept him. Somehow he managed to take his sluggish play to a whole new level, and left the Red Sox with no choice but to let him go. The man faked two injuries to miss games, including one against the rival Yankees. He took MRI's that revealed nothing was wrong with him, but still refused to try and play. He also decided not to run out plays down the first base line, clocked twice over 5 seconds (one at around 5.7). Speeds described on Sportscenter as "icelandic" for a professional athlete. Both times were moments Manny probably could have beaten them out as well. Once was on a double play at a crucial point in the game, and the other was during John Lackey's near no-hitter that Ramirez could have ended with some hop in his step.

I couldn't describe Manny's antics as anything but entertaining. A few weeks ago he took a terrible angle on a fly ball, missed it as he slid in the wrong direction of the ball, then decided rather than getting up and picking up the ball, he would roll over until he got to it. Naturally, Manny rolled on top of the ball and took a few seconds to get it out from underneath him. Only Ramirez could get away with that. He was blessed to have that Green Monster for 81 games a season. The short left field kept him pretty stationary out there. He didn't have to worry about overexerting himself to catch a fly ball. Manny was no stranger to hanging out in the Green Monster as well. On pitching changes he would often open the door and step right into the wall doing God knows what. I always assumed he was getting a quick blaze in before the next batter. Recently he was seen making a phone call in there. The possibilities are endless as to what else he's done in there in the past.

All in all, Manny's career has been something else. He's hit over 500 home runs, a remarkable task, and managed to be possibly the laziest gifted athlete of our time. It's a wonder he even got off the couch to pursue college baseball and a professional career. But nontheless he did, and he deserves some credit. He truely is a natural ballplayer and one of the best hitters of all-time. He seems to be very happy in LA and should do a lot to help the Dodgers in the next few years. I expect him to help my prediction that LA will win the NL West this year come true. He's off to a quick start and I don't expect a happy Ramirez to slow down. I'm just happy to know I won't be seeing him in the Red Sox lineup the next time they meet the Yankees. I've had enough of "Manny just being Manny" in a Red Sox uniform.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports