Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Peter McGlynn Pushes Ref, Tarnishes UCSB (10.29.12)

In my time at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I encountered quite a few punks.

Most were of the drunken variety, attempting to be tough late at night in the streets and apartments of Isla Vista. To me, these moments were often amusing, as they usually led to stumbling, bumbling idiots pushing and yelling — I never saw anything truly escalate and get out of control. These punks were nothing more than drunken fools, and I'm sure that their actions surely brought them ridicule the following morning when their caretakers, I mean friends, had to explain to them what happened the previous night. 

However, on Sunday, October 28th, one Gaucho took it to a whole 'nother level, and in doing so, he brought shame upon my alma mater. Senior defender Peter McGlynn of the nationally acclaimed UCSB soccer team performed one of the most blatant, foul, cheap shots I've ever seen. 

Coming off of consecutive golden goal overtime losses that dropped UCSB to 25th in the national ranks, UCSB faced UC Davis in a game with serious Big West postseason implications. With tensions running high, the match went to overtime with each side having scored a single goal in regulation. In the overtime period, a blocked shot in the box led to a scrum and the eventual rebound was capitalized by UC Davis forward Matt Sheldon as he sent the ball into the back of the net.

The golden goal ended the game, but the controversy surrounding the final play soon started an ugly sequence that will taint UCSB.

Judging from the video, it's clear that head coach Tim Vom Steeg was unhappy with the officiating in the match. Vom Steeg felt that his goalie was pushed and grabbed throughout the final sequence, and he let the referees know about it as he berated them on the field.

With coach Vom Steeg scolding the officials as they began heading for the exit, he set the stage for a dishonorable act by promoting and even validating rage. With Vom Steeg and other players surrounding the officials, McGlynn ran up from behind and delivered a punk adolescent move that is usually seen during playground brawls, an unexpected push in the back. The push caused the official to eat dirt face first as the unexpected attack laid him out. 

In one fell swoop, McGlynn shamed the university, Chancellor Yang, the students, the alumni, and a dominant soccer program. McGlynn's regrettable action surely stemmed from a night of frustration, but being a punk and pushing an unsuspecting person in the back is not the way to release such frustration. After suffering three consecutive overtime losses, and picking up a yellow card in this overtime, McGlynn was obviously upset with the way the season had turned. I guess it's safe to say that he disagreed with the call and felt cheated by the outcome. McGlynn was immediately assessed a red card and UCSB police escorted him off the field in handcuffs.

All athletes have been in a situation where an official blew a call, but dealing with adversity is a trait that athletes should be comfortable with, especially a senior. If this had been a freshman, maybe I would have questioned the kid's decision making abilities, but McGlynn is a senior, someone who's had enough life experience to know better. Hell, if the Packers didn't riot following the incompetency of the replacement officials on that Fail Mary, then no one has the right to touch an official. 

McGlynn's dishonorable action was nearly prevented by Vom Steeg, but it was too little too late. If Vom Steeg had handled his criticism of the officials in a more professional manner, he wouldn't have been berating the official on the field following the game. Doing so allowed a mob mentality to take over, and Vom Steeg's attempt to jump in and prevent the push came a split second late. Vom Steeg clearly noticed McGlynn running up behind the official, and in an attempt to prevent any disorder, he jumped forward in an attempt to prevent the push from occurring. By acting unprofessionally, Vom Steeg subconsciously encouraged such despicable behavior. 

The fallout from this incident will reach far and wide. UCSB will be featured in unflattering spots on programs like Good Morning America and The View, and many will take shots at the school, the students, and the soccer program. 

As an alumni, I'm disgraced with the entire ordeal. 

As a fan of the excellent soccer program, I'm disappointed.

I was there for the UCSB-UCLA match in 2010 that set a Harder Stadium record with 15,896 fans in attendance, the third highest attendance in collegiate soccer history — and it was just a regular season matchup! That game rivaled any sporting experience I've been to, including professional playoff games.

I ran on the field in 2007 after UCSB defeated Washington State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. With tortillas flying onto the field, my roommate and I jumped the barricade and sprinted as a huge circle formed at midfield. We joined the circle and began jumping and screaming and just soaking in the moment.

These moments will forever be a part of my UCSB history, and without a football team, they will also be considered the biggest athletic events of my school tenure — sorry Men's basketball, I know you won the Big West Tournament and earned invitations to the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, but I didn't witness these games live in attendance because they were not at home (and you got blown out in consecutive first round appearances in the NCAA tournament against powerhouses). Although, it sure was fun taunting Tyler Hansbrough when Duke came to visit — prior to the game the public address announcer told the crowd to keep the chants clean... we didn't.

For better or worse, soccer is the sport of choice in Santa Barbara. In fact, UCSB broke its own record to set the NCAA soccer record with an average attendance of 5,873 fans per game in 2010.

Unfortunately, the current students are on pace to break that attendance record, averaging 6,153 fans per game, but it's all for naught. Due to the incident, McGlynn has been cut, Vom Steeg has been suspended for one game, and the school has forfeited the opportunity to enter postseason play. Just like that, the season has been rendered meaningless. Mark Massari, the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at UCSB, was put in a position that I'm sure he never envisioned, but in the end, he had to drop the hammer. By forfeiting the right to enter postseason play, this will be the first time in over a decade that UCSB will not enter the NCAA tournament.

While playing Varsity basketball in high school, I used to absolutely despise the notion that one mistake could lead to punishment for the entire team. We would run drills, and if one player wasn't giving his all or was making mistakes, the entire team was forced to run suicides. I understood the concept of success and failure within the realm of the team, but I just really hated running suicides, especially if it was because of someone else's mistake.

But when you look at an incident like this, it sure does highlight the importance of team, the sanctity of team, the dedication required of all members of a team. One incident has shattered the season. One mistake has cost every single player on the squad. All the training, the sweat, the fatigue, the hours, the early mornings, the staying in instead of partying, the commitment, all of it went for nothing. Imagine how that feels. Imagine the dedication required to play Division I soccer on a national powerhouse, and then attempt to understand how it would feel to see that dedication rendered meaningless.

In the preseason, the UCSB soccer program entered as a consensus top 10 squad among numerous polls, and they even reached their highest preseason ranking ever, tabbed number four by Soccer America. With such hype and national expectations, this team was expected to contend for a national title. Vom Steeg has been one of the most impressive coaches in collegiate soccer history, but this season will surely serve as a black mark upon his accomplished resume — a 195-75-30 record in 14 seasons at UCSB, five Big West titles in the past 10 years, 10 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, a national title in 2006, national runner up in 2004, Big West Conference Coach of the Year in 2004, 2005, and 2010, and the NSCAA National Coach of the Year in 2004 and 2006. Clearly, this program has a history of success, and such an implosion probably never even entered the realm of possible end scenarios.

As we all know, sometimes all it takes is for one lapse in judgement to turn someone's world upside down. In this case, it took two. Vom Steeg and McGlynn just threw away the season, and in doing so, tarnished an excellent UCSB reputation.

There's always next year, but it will take a long time for this incident to pass over. This is not what UCSB is all about, and hopefully the entire school will rally together and show that true Gaucho spirit.

And to whoever caught that moment on camera and uttered "nice push," at the end of the video, you're weak man. I really don't know what to say if you consider a cheap shot like that a legitimate, deserved retaliation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

21 NBA GM's Choose the Wrong NBA Champion (10.23.12)

In a recent annual survey, 21 NBA general managers selected the Miami Heat to repeat as NBA champions for this upcoming season.

Well, it looks like 21 GM's are going to be eating crow this coming June when the Los Angeles Lakers hoist up that 17th championship banner. Actually, make that 22 GM's (per voting rules, Miami's GM couldn't vote for his own team).

I find it rather surprising that 70% of NBA GM's picked the Heat to win it all this year, but maybe I shouldn't. The Heat are (I despise the collective singular) definitely going to be in the Finals, so they pretty much have a 50% chance of winning it all. These may be the same GM's who handed Emeka Okafor $72 million over six years, Carlos Boozer $75 million over five years, Andres Biedrins $62 million over six years, and Joe Johnson a whopping $123.7 million over six years, but in this case, they are actually taking the safe bet.

I mean, who can challenge the Heat in the Eastern Conference?

The Celtics?

Gritty, but old. They did valiantly push the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals despite Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen all playing with limiting injuries, especially Pierce (LeBron's fiercest competitor). The Celtics look to be the Heat's biggest threat, but tack another year onto Garnett and Pierce, and the Celtics will likely come up short once again.

How about the Nets?

Flashy, but unproven. Deron Williams is a stud, Joe Johnson can drop buckets, and Gerald Wallace is a versatile warrior, but the Nets won't be able to defend anyone, especially with a small frontline of Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez. Williams and Johnson should be great defenders considering their size, but up to this point, I haven't seen them dedicate to playing lockdown defense. This team will get up and down and pour in points, but in the playoffs those transition opportunities will dry up, and Williams and Johnson will be asked to outplay James and Wade — highly unlikely.

What about the Pacers?

I actually like the Pacers. They have the necessary size and length to give the Heat problems, but as was the case last postseason, they don't have a proven closer. Danny Granger just isn't "The Man" and unless Roy Hibbert can improve his conditioning and stay on the floor for 40+ minutes, this team won't be dethroning the champs. The Pacers are scrappy and have had some success against the Heat, but to beat the Heat, they will need all five guys on the floor to play excellent basketball, and that sort of reliance is just too much to ask for. Teams need a guy who can get buckets no matter what, and the Pacers don't have that guy.

How about last season's top seed, the Bulls?

Is Derrick Rose healthy? Doubt it. If he plays, he won't be the same guy. He won't be the D-Rose we all know and love until the following season. Without a dominant Rose, the Bulls won't be contending. They will be gritty and play tough defense, but their championship aspirations are going to be on hold until Rose is Rose again.

Then there's the ultimate x-factor, the Knicks?

Carmelo Anthony certainly has all the tools, yet he is entering his 12th NBA season with just one trip to the Conference Finals under his belt, and he is still trailing James and Wade in the battle for best baller from the 2003 NBA draft class. The Knicks have tons of talent with Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert to go along with proven veterans such as Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and Raymond Felton, but will that spell success? Unless Anthony puts together a LeBronesque or Dirkesque season and absolutely carries the Knicks in every huge spot, this team won't get it done. If Anthony commits to playing defense, this team can be formidable, but we've never seen him do it before, and we likely won't see it happen in the future. Anthony needs to summon his inner Paul Pierce for this team to take down the Heat.

As for a dark horse, how about the Sixers?

Their young core is impressive, but they likely are two years away from being full fledged contenders. Jrue Holiday is a stud running the point, Evan Turner is a solid shooting guard, Thaddeus Young is a versatile wing/post, and Andrew Bynum is the best offensive post player in the NBA. This team has so much potential, but it will all rest upon Bynum. Bynum's never been "The Man" in the NBA, and it will be very interesting to see how he handles the responsibility of grinding it out every single night. Bynum has a penchant for taking games off, but that won't fly in Philadelphia. This team can do some real damage, and looking at their roster, they can really exploit some of the Heat's weaknesses, but do you believe that Bynum is ready to be that dominant center that can destroy the Heat? In my opinion, he's still got some growing up to do, so no.

So yes, the Heat are a safe bet to make the Finals. However, once they get there, I don't see them beating the Lakers, or even the Oklahoma City Thunder.

I 100% believe in the Lakers this season, but if for some reason the Thunder take them down, then I have the Thunder winning it all. I firmly believe that if James had been whistled for a foul on Kevin Durant during the final shot of Game 2, then the Thunder would have won the whole thing. In fact, James fouled Durant, and then he fouled the crashing Russell Westbrook who would have came up with the offensive rebound for a putback if James hadn't grabbed his hand and threw it down. The Thunder then lost the next two games by six points apiece, thus placing them in a 3-1 hole that they just couldn't escape. That series came down to about seven total plays, and unfortunately for the Thunder, the Heat came up with those seven plays.

But enough about the Thunder, the 2012-13 NBA Champions are going to be the Los Angeles Lakers. Seven wise GM's picked the Lakers to be the champs in that poll, and I have a feeling those GM's are running quality franchises like the Celtics and Spurs, rather than the Kings and Bobcats. With the new look Lakers trotting out Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard, I can't help but envision riots in Los Angeles after the Lakers defeat the Heat for the NBA Championship.

The biggest factor in the championship race will be Howard. The Heat have no answer for him, absolutely no one. Chris Bosh and his slight frame certainly won't have a chance against him, and Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem are far too undersized to even dream of containing Howard. Anthony and Haslem top out at 6'9", and Bosh stands 6'11", but he prefers to defend power forwards and he will likely match up with Gasol. Offensively, Howard can punish the Heat at their weakest position, center. The Heat love to play small ball, often sliding James to the four and Bosh to the five, but that won't work against the Lakers with Gasol and Howard on the court. The Heat struggled to defend Roy Hibbert in the 2012 postseason, imagine the struggles they will have with Howard. Furthermore, the Heat will be forced to play their big men extended minutes, something they would prefer not to do.

However, it won't even be Howard's offensive output that makes the difference, it will be his defense. Howard is a beast in the paint, and he can singlehandedly control just about anything within eight feet of the rim. Even more impressive, Howard is mobile enough to contain pick and rolls, so drawing him away from the rim won't automatically lead to a layup as it would with say Gasol or Bynum. With Gasol and Howard manning the middle, you're going to see a lot of jumpers coming from James and Wade. Knowing that the twin towers are patrolling the paint, Bryant, World Peace, and Nash will be able to crowd their opponents and aggressively defend those jumpers. Overall, Howard will serve as James' kryptonite. With James likely unable to attack the rim with such domination, the Heat will suffer measurably.

With guys like Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller, and Shane Battier, the Heat will depend upon James and Wade to drive and kick in order for those guys to knock down open threes. Against other teams, that formula will destroy opponents. But against the Lakers, Howard can shut that formula down. James and Wade will still drive, but the the wing defenders won't have to crash hard due to Howard, thus allowing them to stay home with the shooters. Lacking open threes, and struggling to finish at the rim over Gasol and Howard, the Heat will struggle to score.

On the other end, with Nash running the point, the Lakers will absolutely thrive offensively. Nash knows how to deliver quality shot attempts, and this year will be no different. Running the side and high pick and roll with Howard and Gasol all game, Nash will feed the bigs a consistent stream of layups and lobs. Even scarier, Bryant will be on the weak side with one on one coverage. With a multitude of options, from the high low, to the corner three, to post ups, to mid range pull ups, the offensive output from the Lakers will be staggering. The Heat will struggle to defend any sort of high low situation, and they will struggle to defend the pick and roll. With Nash serving as a deadeye shooter, all one can do is hope for a miss when he runs the pick and roll with either Howard or Gasol. The only guy on the floor that will be considered a non-threat will be World Peace, but if he can hit anywhere from 35-40% from that open corner three spot, the Lakers will be deadly.

Essentially, the Lakers can force the action upon the Heat. They can play big, and if necessary they can even go small. Because of Howard's impressive mobility, the Lakers can trot out Nash, Meeks/Blake, Bryant, Jamison/Artest, and Howard to counteract a small ball lineup of Chalmers/Cole, Wade, Allen/Battier/Miller, James, Lewis/Haslem/Bosh. The Heat will likely try to force small ball upon the Lakers, but it's unlikely to be effective. The Heat will work to attack Howard and bait him into fouls, but Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year — the man knows how to stay on the floor and play D.

Overall, Dwight Howard signals another downpour of purple and gold confetti in June, and there's nothing the Heat can do about it. With Nash and Bryant running the show offensively, and Gasol and Howard dominating the glass and paint, the Lakers will be the champs. How 21 GM's can think otherwise is beyond belief. Maybe they doubt the ability of the Lakers to gel and play championship ball. I don't. This collection possesses so much talent and basketball IQ, it won't take long for them to get rolling, and once they hit their stride, the Lakers will thrive in all facets of the game.

James is quickly evolving into an assassin, something of a Jules from Pulp Fiction with a freight train of intimidation and executionbut Howard can overpower him with his dominant T-800 frame. Oh, and don't forget about Bryant and his Leonesque cold stone killer capabilities, the ultimate professional.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Philip Rivers, The Broncos 12th Man (10.16.12)

Dear Philip,

Thank you.

You held a stranglehold upon the Denver Broncos and the AFC West, and with a 24-0 lead heading into the half during Monday Night Football, you stood just 30 minutes away from taking a commanding two game lead in the AFC West.

Yet somehow, you inexplicably gave the game away with six turnovers, with five of them coming in the second half. Four interceptions. Two fumbles. Incredible.

Even worse, you directly contributed to 14 Broncos points with a fumble that was returned 65 yards for a touchdown and an interception that was returned 46 yards for a touchdown.

Playing in front of your adoring San Diego home crowd, you coughed up the game with a colossal meltdown for the ages. You were certainly fired up heading into the half, but then it all went wrong. With your mistakes, you directly contributed to the wrong side of history as the Denver Broncos tied an NFL record for the largest comeback win for a road team. The Broncos also tied the record for the fourth largest regular-season comeback in NFL history, and Peyton Manning engineered his NFL record 37th comeback, and the largest comeback of his career (topping his 21 point masterpiece against the Buccaneers in '03).

Whew! What an interesting tale of two halves. As a Broncos fan, it's tough to find the precise words to explain my reactions throughout the game. Emotions ranged from disgust to glee and everything in-between. Let's just say, I'm thankful.

I'm thankful because the Broncos absolutely hate first halves and continuously dig themselves into a hole. In fact, the Broncos have trailed at the half in five of their six games this year, with a Week 4 thrashing of the Oakland Raiders serving as the lone exception. The Broncos have been outscored 65-37 in first halves this season, and this game marks the fourth 20 point deficit the Broncos have faced in this young season. Fortunately, this time the Broncos were able to actually come back and win. Furious rallies against Atlanta, Houston, and New England all came up short, but this time, the Broncos prevailed.

Within the first three minutes of the game, it looked like the Broncos were bound to come up short once again as they coughed up the ball on consecutive special teams plays. First, Trindon Holliday, freshly signed off of waivers, muffed a punt on Denver's 17-yard line. This led to a Chargers recovery and the opening score of the game, a field goal. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Omar Bolden fumbled the ball on the return and the Chargers capitalized with a touchdown, giving them a 10-0 lead in the opening minutes.

The Broncos have suffered some inexplicable turnovers this season — hello Demaryius Thomas and Willis McGahee — and it sure seemed like this opening foreshadowed another tough day. After an embarrassing first quarter, a gaffe in the second quarter absolutely solidified my belief that the Broncos were destined to lose.

Facing a second-and-ten on Denver's own 15-yard line, Manning exploited a defensive lapse in the secondary and hit a streaking Eric Decker. With no one in front of him, Decker hauled in the reception and had 50 yards of open field until the end zone. Instead, Decker suffered an epic fail as he stumbled and tripped over himself. The play resulted in a 55-yard gain instead of what looked like a guaranteed touchdown.

Three plays after the grass tackled Decker, Manning and his young receiver, Matt Willis, suffered a major miscommunication. Manning expected Willis to run a quick stop hot route as the blitz came, but Willis missed the line sight adjustment and instead streaked. Manning tossed the ball expecting the stop route, and Quentin Jammer capitalized on the miscommunication by intercepting the ball and returning it 80-yards for a touchdown. Bam! 17-0 in one fell swoop.

On the ensuing series, the Broncos went three-and-out, and the Chargers capitalized with a ten play drive that led to another touchdown with 24 seconds remaining in the half, making the score 24-0. Just like that, the Broncos faced another humiliating deficit in front of a national audience.

Then, it all turned around.

First, Manning led an impressive eight play, 85-yard drive that put the Broncos on the board and was capped with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.

Then, Elvis Dumervil came up with a momentum swinging play as he stymied a nice drive by Rivers and the Chargers. On the eleventh play of the drive, the Chargers faced a third-and-eight on Denver's 33-yard line. Coming off of the edge, Dumervil turned the corner and knocked the ball out as Rivers wound up to throw the ball. Tony Carter picked up the fumble and took it the distance for a 65-yard touchdown, making the score 24-14.

The following drive, the Chargers went three-and-out.

Then Manning responded with a drive exclusively out of the shotgun. It was this drive that provided arguably the most important play of the game. Following consecutive penalties that pushed a third-and-one to a third-and-sixteen, Manning dropped a perfect pass in-between the linebacker/safety low/high zone coverage to find Jacob Tamme for a 25-yard completion. This huge first down kept the Broncos alive momentum wise, and Manning finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker. Decker made up for his prior mishap by taking the bubble screen and bullying his way into the end zone to make the score 24-21.

Then Rivers tossed his first of three fourth quarter interceptions. Facing a third-and-eight, Rivers forced a ball deep down the middle and he threw it short. In single coverage without any help, Tony Carter sold out to make a play on the floating ball, and he came up with the interception. Manning capitalized with a four-play, 50-yard drive that finished with a spectacular throw to Brandon Stokley for a 21-yard touchdown. For the first time in the game, the Broncos took the lead, 24-28.

With over nine minutes remaining in the game, the Chargers still had plenty of time to make up for their mistakes. Facing another long third down, this time a third-and-seven, Rivers tossed another pick. However, this one probably wasn't his fault. Eddie Royal failed to cut in front of his defender as he ran a quick in route over the middle. Chris Harris made a great play on the ball as he jammed Royal, cut in front of him, and then picked off the pass.

Following the Harris pick, the Broncos failed to put points on the board, and the Chargers regained possession with just under four minutes remaining in the game. With the game up for grabs, the Chargers still had a great opportunity to pull out the win, and Rivers still had a chance to atone for his mistakes. However, Harris wasn't done just yet. On second-and-six at the San Diego 45-yard line, Rivers tossed his final interception of the game. Rivers looked to hit Royal on an out route toward the sidelines, but Rivers lagged in his read and he threw the ball late and behind. In man defense, Harris read the play perfectly as he drove on the ball hard, picked it off, and took it the distance for a touchdown. Game. 24-35, Broncos.

On the next Chargers possession, Dumervil came up with another forced fumble to close the game. Mike Adams recovered the Rivers fumble and Manning took a couple knees to end the game.

Overall, the dichotomy of each half was rather stunning. The Chargers seemed to put the game away in the first half as they came up with opportunistic plays. Then, the Broncos came up with numerous huge plays that led to one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history. The doom and gloom of the Broncos first half performance took a jaw-dropping turn as Rivers set career highs with four interceptions and six total turnovers.

So, thank you, Philip. You missed an opportunity to bury the Broncos with a favorable two game advantage in the division, and instead, you gave the Broncos a 3-3 record (much more favorable than 2-4), good for first place in the AFC West. With just two teams above .500 in the AFC, you missed out on an opportunity to capitalize on a weak AFC conference. You used to be considered an elite quarterback, but this season seems to be marking year two of an unexpected decline. Now, you have to sit through a bye week and stew over this loss as the Broncos will look to increase their lead in the division with a game against the New Orleans Saints.

Some will give the credit for the win to the Broncos defense, to Elvis Dumervil, to Von Miller, to Chris Harris, to Tony Carter. Others will give the credit to the offense, and pretty much just Peyton Manning. But, I have to give the credit to Philip Rivers. I mean, come on, four turnovers in the deciding quarter, how does that happen? We've seen the Broncos go on some furious rallies this season, but this time they actually won, and it never would have been possible without Rivers' performance.

On Monday Night Football, Rivers served as the 12th man for the Denver Broncos, and it may have been unexpected, but I'll take it, and so will the Denver Broncos. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dwight "Purple Hills" Howard (10.9.12)

As a lifelong Lakers fan, I cringed while watching Dwight Howard give a live interview to Stu Lantz and Bill Macdonald during the Lakers first preseason game against the Golden State Warriors.

Howard had his humorous moments, especially when he dropped the "Kobe voice" although the telecast wasn't ready to go live — after Stu called him on it, the telecast cut to commercial. Howard also gave some bland, standard answers about being excited, playing hard, etc.

So what was it that made me cringe?

Well, Howard, in an attempt to distance himself from Shaquille O'Neal, anointed himself "Iron Man."

Why "Iron Man"?

Well, if you don't know, Howard and O'Neal have squabbled over the "Superman" moniker for the past couple of years. Following his "Superman dunk" in the 2008 Dunk Contest, Howard usurped the moniker that O'Neal held throughout his career. Never mind the fact that Howard only wore that red cape because Soulja Boy was famous at the time for creating a dance craze that included the line "Superman that oh" (a homophone meant to be hoe that not so subtly contained a sexual innuendo). Remember Soulja Boy? He was famous for about fifteen minutes my freshman year of college.

From there, Howard seemed to embrace the Superman moniker. Howard even did a "This is SportsCenter" commercial where he posed as Clark Kent, Superman's alter ego. With Howard ripping off O'Neal's most prized nickname, a public beef ensued. In fact, after 21 years of NBA ball, O'Neal handed out T-shirts that read "The Real Superman" at his retirement press conference.

With the "Superman beef," serving as a catalyst, O'Neal and Howard have spatted publicly for the past couple of years. During his time as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, O'Neal's teammate, LeBron James, shed some light on the beef, stating, "The whole Superman thing kind of bothers him. That's definitely his nickname, and the fact that everybody kind of gave Dwight his name kind of bothers him a little bit."

Since retiring, O'Neal has continued taking public shots at Howard, going so far as to say that Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez are better "big men" than Howard. O'Neal caught a lot of flack for that statement, but if you read his full thought process, he may have a point — O'Neal defines a big man as someone who can play with his back to the basket rather than relying on athleticism and the pick and roll. Certainly, Lopez is a question mark, but I have a feeling that quote won't look like such a "hater" quote in about two years — in my opinion, Bynum is the most developed offensive low-post player, and Lopez has some real potential as a low-post threat.

To push the O'Neal-Howard correlation even further, it seems like their career arcs are on a similar path. Each made a trip to the NBA Finals early in his career and was defeated handily. Each held Orlando hostage and eventually decided to move on to Los Angeles in his prime. And it seems like Howard wants to get into the movie business in a similar fashion to O'Neal. Hopefully Howard can push the correlation even further by winning his first ring this season at the age of 27, the same age that O'Neal won his first championship in the '99-00 season.

Overall, Howard's intentions are fine and dandy, but Howard lacks the originality of the "The Big Aristotle" (a personal favorite of mine), and in an attempt to distance himself from O'Neal, Howard unwittingly ripped off another Lakers great.


A.C. Green!

Green played for the Lakers for nine seasons, with eight straight to start his career, and one later as a member of the '99-00 championship squad.

You may think that Green is nowhere near Howard's level, but the man definitely earned his moniker of "Iron Man." Green played in 1278 out of 1281 possible NBA games throughout his 18 year career. Green's only missed games came in his second season, '86-87. Following those missed games, Green played in 1,192 straight games — now that's an "Iron Man."

Green is also known as the most famous celibate athlete ever — he claims to have finished his pro career as a virgin. It has to take an iron will to resist the temptation of women as a pro athlete.

With three rings as a member of the Lakers, Green holds a firm place in the hearts of many Lakers' faithful.

If anyone deserves the "Iron Man" moniker, it's A.C. Green. Howard needs to brush up on his Lakers history and search for another nickname.

Howard may be a freak of nature, but he's coming off of a back surgery that took him out last season and will likely force him to miss time this upcoming season. An "Iron Man" doesn't miss games, yet it seems like Howard will do so to begin his Lakers' career.

It's almost embarrassing that Howard went from ripping off one Lakers legend to another. Howard may be enamored with superheroes, but I think that it's time he came up with something original.

After pondering for about two minutes, I actually have a suggestion.

How about Howard parlays his D12 moniker (his initial and number) into "Purple Hills"?

"Purple Hills" is a reference to the clean version of the excellent rap song by the group D12. The moniker would contain a Lakers color along with a reference to climbing up to the top (a championship). In fact, the song lyrics even mention "yellow purple hills" and there's even a Christopher Reeves (the actor who played Superman) rhyme.

It's not the greatest, but it's interesting, and Howard is so big, he may look like a "Purple Hill" in that road uniform.

Howard certainly has some "Purple Hills" to climb in order to ascend to the level of some all-time Lakers greats, why not take the challenge head on and embrace it?

Dwight "Purple Hills" Howard. It kind of has a ring to it.

If Howard wants to join Mikan, Chamberlain, Jabbar, and O'Neal, he's got some huge "Purple Hills" to climb. Hopefully they aren't so difficult that they become mountains.

If you think my suggestion is lame, send me a suggestion, or better yet, tweet Howard.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Defending Kansas City Chiefs Fans (10.8.12)

After seeing the reaction all over ESPN and other outlets following the Chiefs-Ravens game, I have a feeling that I am going to be in the minority on the topic of Matt Cassel and the Kansas City fans.

Whatever the case, let me breakdown Eric Winston's (KC's starting right tackle) comments regarding Cassel and the reaction of the cheering fans in Kansas City following a hit that left Cassel lying on the ground concussed.

First, watch the play that led to Cassel's concussion (hopefully YouTube won't take it down; the video doesn't show the live time response of the fans).

After checking down to Jamaal Charles — pretty much the only pass Cassel can make with consistency — Cassel was drilled by Haloti Ngata, a 6'4" 340 pound mammoth of a man. Trailing 9-3 at home in the fourth quarter, Charles went into Madden mode as he juked several defenders and picked up sixteen yards on the play for a first down.

After watching the replay over and over, it's clear that the fans are cheering as Cassel lies on the ground. However, how and or why they are cheering is unknown. They definitely cheer for Charles and his clutch play late in the game. But, the cheers continue long after the play concludes, and noticeably as Cassel lies on the ground. Once the public address announcer states, "Injury timeout," there is a noticeable drop in the decibel level from the stands, thus further complicating matters of intent.

So what were the fans thinking in that thirty second span following the tackle on Charles and the PA announcing "Injury timeout"?

While the cheering seems to all blend together, there definitely seems to be a portion of time that represents a cheer for Cassel's injury. I can't defend this, and I won't try to defend it.

However, I can pick apart Eric Winston and his comments. Watch his reaction in the locker room following the game.

Pretty much, I disagree with a lot of his points. I agree with his moral take on the situation — that it's wrong to cheer when an athlete is injured, regardless of what team he plays for — however, I believe that Winston fails to take into account the fan's perspective, especially his home fans.

Essentially, I believe that those cheers would have occurred if Cassel had been subbed out due to his shoddy play. Unfortunately, head coach Romeo Crennel didn't have the guts to sit his faltering quarterback, and instead, an injury made the decision for him.

This distinction is important. It comes down to one of two options, and one is indefensible, while the other is easily defensible. Either you believe the fans were cheering because Cassel got hurt, or you believe the fans were cheering because Cassel would no longer play the position of quarterback. The two may go hand in hand, but the intent of each situation is rather different.

Although Brady Quinn isn't really that great of an option to replace Cassel, something needs to be done. Here are Cassel's stats so far this season: a 58.5% completion percentage, 1,150 yards, five touchdowns, an NFL high nine interceptions, a 66.2 passer rating (158.3 is perfect), and a 45.77 ESPN total quarterback rating (out of 100). Don't forget the 1-4 record, and in the Baltimore game, Cassel was 9-15 for 92 yards and two interceptions — pedestrian to say the least. By the end of the game, the Chiefs finished with 50 total rushing attempts compared to just 18 passing attempts. It's safe to say that the quarterback position is holding the Chiefs back.

So were the fans malicious, or just fed up? Maybe one doesn't exist without the other.

Other than a surprising 2010 campaign in which Cassel made the Pro Bowl and the Chiefs made it to the playoffs, the Chiefs have been nothing but a doormat in the NFL. Cassel's record so far in Kansas City is 19-25 throughout four seasons, and 10 of those wins came in 2010.

I tend to think the fans were fed up, and that is something Eric Winston certainly doesn't seem to agree with. Winston clearly believes that the fans were malicious.

So let's breakdown his comments.

Winston opens with this statement, "We are athletes, we are not gladiators, this isn't the Roman Coliseum."

Winston makes this claim in an attempt to shame the fans into regretting the fact that we enjoy the bloodsport of the NFL.

I strongly object Winston's initial claim. To me, the NFL is setup in the fashion of a modern day gladiator battle. I understand this, and this does not bother me. The violence and spectacle of it all clearly borrows from the Roman Coliseum. The entertainment value of the gladiators in Ancient Rome laid the groundwork for the NFL to become the biggest sports league in America. The gladiator games had owners, players, pairs (like a team), trainers, sponsors, advertisements, tickets, amphitheaters, spectators, and an immense popularity. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it?

Now, your first thought is, "But the NFL doesn't feature executions!" You are right, however, the NFL does feature delayed death sentences, CTE anyone?  In fact, Winston even states, "There are long lasting ramifications to the game we play [...] I've already come to the understanding I won't live as long because I play this game, and that's okay. That's a choice I've made, that's a choice all of us have made." So yes, the instant ramifications of the gladiatorial games are not present, but make no mistake, over time, the NFL isn't really all that different from those violent spectacles in Ancient Rome.

Winston continues, "People pay their hard earned money to come in here, and I believe they can boo, they can cheer, they can do whatever they want [...] It's hard economic times, and they still pay the money to do this."

This statement pretty much speaks for itself. Yes, cheering as an injured player lies on the ground is classless, but as Winston stated, the fans are free to do what they want. According to reports by the Fan Cost Experience, an average family of four (two adults, two children) will spend $360.68 to attend a Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium. Depending upon a number of conditions, that number can rise dramatically, or fall slightly. In today's economy, that's a lot of money, and Winston understands this. Without the fans, there is no need to play on Sundays. Does this give the fans the right to do whatever they want to do with their voices? Well, yes it does. It may not be right, but money paid equals rights gained.

Winston follows up his previous point with this sentiment, "When you cheer somebody getting knocked out, I don't care who it is, and it just so happened to be Matt Cassel, it's sickening, it's one hundred percent sickening [...] I've never been more embarrassed in my life to play football."

I have one major issue with this statement. I cannot defend the actions of the fans if they were in fact cheering due to Cassel's injury. If there was malicious intent, and for a few, I'm sure there was, the situation is sickening, no doubt about it. Winston's thought process cannot be scrutinized here. The fact that it was a home crowd makes the situation even worse. It wasn't just blind hate, it was calculated.

But you have to wonder, why was it calculated? I have a strong suspicion that those fans wouldn't have been cheering if that was Brady, Rodgers, Manning, Ryan, or any other decent starting quarterback lying on the ground. For Winston to casually slip in, "It just so happened to be Matt Cassel" is a total disregard of the fans' intelligence and allegiance. In my opinion, if it was Winston lying on the field, there probably wouldn't have been a sound made. If anything, the cheers stem from Cassel's substandard play. There's a distinct difference in cheering due to an injury, and cheering due to a change at the quarterback position. Talent often dictates appreciation, and lacking talent doesn't give the fans the right to boo an injured player, but I can see why they would be excited about a change at the quarterback position.

If coach Crennel had subbed Cassel out in favor of Quinn, I have a feeling that the cheers would have been much louder. Cassel didn't deserve to be on the field at that point, and if he had been on the sideline where he belonged, he wouldn't have been knocked out. On 25 different Sundays, Cassel has displayed his inability to lead the Chiefs to a win. The fans know this. Their jeers toward Cassel may have come at the wrong time, but they came for a reason. Football is not about displaying excellent moments of humanity, it's about winning. The fans voiced their displeasure in a vulnerable moment, and it's difficult to defend such an occurrence, but in a similar manner, it's understandable. Winston doesn't want to throw his quarterback under the bus, but he can't argue with the statistics.

In an unintentional comedic moment, Winston later stated, "Matt Cassel hasn't done anything." I certainly felt a small grin come over my face when I heard that statement. Winston continued, "[Cassel] hasn't done anything to you people."

Ohhhh! That's right. Listen, Cassel may be a standup guy, but once again, is this about being nice, or is it about results? Nice doesn't win football games. Winston's defense of Cassel is admirable, and Cassel deserves a defense in terms of being a fellow human, but other than that, nobody cares. He's a football player, not a civilian.

Winston continues, "Hey, if he's not the best quarterback, then he's not the best quarterback, and that's okay, but he's a person."

Your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs everybody. Sounds a lot like parents at a youth soccer game. Don't voice your displeasure, he's a person. Mediocrity is acceptable, he's a person. A person doesn't deserve such treatment. I wonder if that sentiment works anywhere else in life? "Boss, I couldn't get the job done. [Boss yells], [Employee responds] I'm a person!"

In one sense, Winston is totally right. Cassel doesn't deserve to be cheered because he's injured and can no longer play. But in another sense, come on, this is football! This is about playing to win, Herm Edwards surely agrees. Winston's moral claim is fine, but his athletic claim is rather disappointing. He sounds like a member of a 1-4 team that has been a doormat for three of the past four years. This is Winston's first year as a member of the Chiefs, maybe he's unaware of the passion Kansas City has for its team.

Winston concludes, "If you are one of those people that were out there cheering, or even smiled when he got knocked out, I just want to let you know, and I want everybody to know that I think it's sickening and disgusting [...] Don't blame a guy, don't cheer for a guy [who is injured] who has done everything in his power to play as good as he can for the fans. It's sickening."

Winston finishes strong with this thoughtful statement. I believe that Winston would have been better served solely releasing this statement — it's succinct, doesn't provide excuses, doesn't admonish the entire fan base, and addresses the moral dilemma at hand.

Hats off to Eric Winston and his humane beliefs, but NFL players are paid to perform. Up to this point, Cassel has largely failed to play up to expectation. If Cassel had nine touchdowns this season instead of nine interceptions, these events would have never happened. We all know that favorites tend to get a break; that doesn't make things right, but it's the truth.

Life is bigger than football, but sometimes it's hard to remember that when you are surrounded by a sea of 76,000 fans that only want to watch their team win.

So are the fans excused for their actions? No. But can I understand why they did what they did? Yes.

Better luck next week Kansas City. Hey, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe are studs. If you ever find a good quarterback, you have a strong foundation for success.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Real Refs (10.2.12)

After three weeks of substandard NFL football, how was your football viewing experience throughout Week 4?

Think about it for a minute, go ahead and ruminate.

You may struggle to find a single word that can encapsulate your experience, but you probably have a positive impression. 

Your team may have lost, but at least you can believe in the integrity of the game. That counts for something you know, it really does. 

Isn't it interesting that the NFL came to terms with the NFLRA within 48 hours of the Green Bay-Seattle fiasco?  It's almost as if the NFL never thought that unqualified replacement referees could impact an actual game. How naive. How irresponsible. How dishonest.

Honestly, I figured the NFL would dig in following the "Fail Mary." I didn't expect a deal to get done, because I figured the NFL accounted for a situation such as this. When analyzing the pros and cons of their decision to lockout the officials, how could the NFL not examine the worst case scenario? I'm sure the "Innacurate Reception," another great nickname, represented what the NFL deemed the worst case scenario, and I figured the NFL had already decided that such an outcome would be the assumed collateral throughout the labor negotiations.

However, it seems like the power of public backlash lit a fire upon the NFL to come to terms with the NFLRA. Ode to the power of public scorn. After three weeks of marring an extraordinary product with incompetency that produced WWE type results, the NFL came to its senses and reached a deal with the NFLRA. 

Unfortunately, it seems like this deal could have been reached all along. In fact, it seems like the NFL lost the battle on this negotiation and instead settled for far less than they were demanding. The NFL conceded to a revised pension plan and offered up a raise, and the officials conceded the implementation of developing new officials. Seems to make sense, right? Unfortunately, for the first three weeks of the season, the NFL played hardball, and it ended up costing them. Oh, and don't forget, this hardball tactic cost teams victories, produced various fines for coaches and players, put players in perilous situations, and severely impacted the product for the fans. 

With a deal in place, I think we can all agree that Week 4 of the NFL was much more enjoyable to watch than Weeks 1-3. The lunacy of the first three weeks may have been interesting to watch for some, but there's no doubt that it cast a dark shadow over the league. 

With NFL officials actually garnering cheers this past week, it sure was nice to see them back on the field. Integrity restored. Madness withdrawn. The NFL cares again... finally.

Simply put, Thursday, Sunday, and Monday were smooth. Can you think of a better term? Whatever it is, it definitely contains positive connotations, and that's all that matters. 

There were a few minor hiccups, especially when the Green Bay Packers, the catalysts that led to the end of the NFLRA lockout, came up on the wrong side of a call when Darren Sproles of the New Orleans Saints clearly fumbled a kickoff return midway through the fourth quarter that was instead ruled down by contact. Fortunately, the Packers were able to hold on and win the game. If they had lost, I have a feeling that the officials would have been blasted mercilessly. 

The Sunday night game also featured some questionable calls, namely the late pass interference calls on both the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants. 

However, as a whole, the referees stayed in the background, and that's where they belong. Did you see any headlines that led with the officials? I didn't, and that's exactly how it should be.

Let's just be thankful for "The Real Refs." No more ten minute delays. No more misplaced ball spots. No more unruly scrums and brawls. No more deliberations after routine plays. No more laughable calls that lead to numerous challenges and overturns. No more extra challenges. No more extra timeouts. No more incompetency.

The real officials may blow a call here and there, but I think we can all agree that their presence is necessary, and beneficial. The NFL product is just that much better with them ruling the game. The tempo is much more even, the calls are more accurate, and the integrity of the NFL is no longer considered questionable.

Welcome back NFL officials, we've missed you.