Archive for February, 2006

h1

Back to normal?

February 27, 2006

Well, the Winter Olympics are over (finally) and there will soon be much NHL action to talk about. As EOB is not a pro basketball fan, and not really an avid college basketball fan, there hasn’t been much to talk about for the last two weeks.

Some quick hitters:
– World Baseball Classic starts soon. How big of a deal is this to the average baseball fan? We’ll see. Myself, I’ll probably watch a few games and see how the players are performing. If it seems too much like glorified exhibition, you can bet that I’ll be tuning out along with much of the rest of America. If it resembles playoff baseball, it could actually be quite good.
– College basketball is nearing the most exciting time of year. One more week of the regular season remains, and then the conference tournaments and the Big Dance are upon us. Ready your bracketing skills and ability to multi-task for that first weekend. The Ohio State men’s team currently has a one game lead in the Big T(elev)en with two games to go. The conference tourney could be tough, but the Buckeyes have a chance to come out (in EOB’s opinion) with a 2 seed in the NCAA’s if they win. Depending on the performance of Duke/UConn/Memphis/Villanova, perhaps a 1 seed could be found. For the next four to five weeks, it’s time for EOB to pretend like he knows anything about basketball.
– NHL has approximately seven weeks of play left. For the Bluejackets, that means a chance to break franchise records for wins, points, and respectability. If they can continue to compete like they did in the month prior to the Olympics, the CBJ could turn some heads and do a bit of damage.

Thanks for reading, look forward to more writing now that the Olympics are finished. Come back soon.

h1

Olympic merit, early March Madness

February 16, 2006

Olympic merit

While I’ll never claim to follow Olympic events religiously, as a sports fan it’s hard not to notice what’s going on in the world of international competition. As the current Winter Olympiad was approaching, much national press was given to American downhill hopeful Bode Miller, and figure skater Michelle Kwan. Miller has confessed to partying quite hard during competition weekends, and is known for being slightly reckless on the slopes. Kwan is one of the more recent bearers of the America’s Skating Sweethart title, and was hoping to overcome injury to make the Olympic team and score her first gold medal. Advertising campaigns were filled with these athletes, and given recent circumstances, I have to question this decision.

Bode Miller is an interesting character, by all accounts given. A skier who is more interested in racing the best race possible than actually winning, he is a breath of fresh air (in this sense) compared to the American way of “win at any cost.” But I strongly believe advertisers must consider the athlete as a whole when they choose who to endorse. Given Miller’s loose guidelines for safety and a penchant for reckless operation, I’m not sure that I would make him the focal point of my Olympic marketing campaign as Nike has done online. While striving for personal success in place of “winning” is quite admirable, other elements of that which is Bode may not be those which I would wish to subliminally tell the youth of America (or the world) is acceptable. So much talk is issued about “the spirit of the Games”, and it is hard for me to believe that there aren’t athletes out there that could represent this principle and have strong character as well. I realize that marketability, and Miller is very marketable, is what drives media coverage. It would still be nice to have people be able to see some good parts of themselves in the athletes, and for the media to promote these parts of their lives instead of constantly going for what makes the best story. Bode is probably a great guy, but all I ever hear about is skiing drunk. I don’t want people to think that Olympians don’t have problems, but I don’t want to glorify these problems either.

Michelle Kwan has been an American figure skating icon for at least eight years now (I won’t claim to know exactly how long she has been around). In the past two Olympic games, she has won bronze and silver medals and was looking to the 2006 event for her first Olympic gold medal. Based on my understanding, the top three qualifiers in the Olympic trials win a spot on the women’s ice skating team. Kwan was not in that top three because of injury, but applied for a medical exemption to skate in Torino. Whatever the governing body is accepted her plea, and bumped Emily Hughes (third place qualifier) from the team to make room for the very marketable Kwan. I can imagine (as I’m not a world class athlete and thus don’t know) that it would be very difficult to accept that my last hope at Olympic gold was likely dashed by injury. However I would like to think I could handle the situation with grace and dignity and cheer for those who were competing rather than petition myself on the team even though I still may not be healthy enough to perform. Sure enough, after one day of practicing in Torino, Kwan withdrew from the women’s competition and Hughes was called up from New York to make the trip and fill the spot that was rightfully hers.

I’m not sure why something like this bothers me so much, but it does. Favoritism is exercised over results. The path is clearly indicated and set forth by a governing body to determine who has the honor and responsibility to represent this nation in the Olympic games. Kwan’s petition damages the integrity of the system and puts marketability and star power over competition based results. If this is truly how the powers-that-be want the system to work, why bother having Olympic trials at all? Perhaps we should just pick who will make the best story, regardless of their results. I admire Hughes through it all, as she seems to truly appreciate getting a second chance and does not appear to hold any ill will against a system that almost kept her out of her first Olympic competition.

(You know it’s a slow news day at EOB when I write about women’s figure skating)

Buckeyes for real?

The Ohio State men’s basketball squad lost a road contest to Wisconsin last night, to fall to (7-4) in Big Te(leve)n play. A few days after handling the Biting Illini in Columbus, the Buckeyes proved how tough it is to win on the road in what is arguably this year’s toughest conference. With an upcoming game against the skilled Spartans in the Breslin Center, Coach Thad Matta’s squad has one more incredibly difficult task ahead before hitting the road to Indianapolis and the Big Te(leve)n Tournament. How far Ohio State goes in the post-season will be determined by hard work. The Buckeyes are at their best when playing tight defense and exercising their ability to force play. If the team plays to its ability, I think they have a chance to hit the Sweet 16 in the Big Dance. If not, they could provide for an early round upset by a low seed. Me, I’m betting on the Buckeyes to send the seniors out having made the final eight of the tourney. But you didn’t hear it here.

Thanks for reading. Come back soon.

h1

Hockey, hockey, hockey

February 8, 2006

Coyote Ugly

The big sports news breaking yesterday was Operation Slapshot cracking an alleged gambling ring linked to Phoenix Coyotes’ assistant coach Rick Tocchet and the mob. It is said that Tocchet fronted the money for said operation, and that up to six current NHL players could be known to place bets with the group. Another notable name leaked and supposed to have placed bets was Janet Jones, perhaps better known these days as Wayne Gretzky’s wife. Tocchet is scheduled for arraignment in the next two weeks.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. People are still talking about Pete Rose and his problems with baseball after more than fifteen years. While it wouldn’t be argued that Tocchet is one of the best players in NHL history, his boss Wayne Gretzky is. There is no speculation at this point that The Great One had any knowledge or doings with the racket, but the relationship between Gretzky and Tocchet is surely one that will be explored in the investigation. Hockey cannot suffer a public relations blunder over this situation, not in the tenuous days following the yearlong lockout. The NHL should set an example and suspend Tocchet immediately until the trial is finished. Regarding the players who allegedly placed bets, perhaps judgement should be reserved until it has been determined if the betting was in fact illegal. To many, that may seem like a foregone conclusion but here is a situation where haste may not be the best choice. Tocchet has had his time in the NHL as a player, and because of his supposed role in the gambling ring he should be suspended. While not being able to coach will hinder him from maintaining his current lifestyle, suspending a current NHL player without proof of wrongdoing could rob that player of productive time in his playing career and irreparable damage to his reputation. If the players in question are deemed in a court of law (rather than one of opinion) to have committed a crime, there will be time and venue to punish them appropriately. If no penalties are assessed prematurely, it could be unnecessarily ugly.

Doug MacLean: Genius, illusionist, or layman?

When the city of Columbus was awarded an NHL franchise in 1997, there was much excitement. When it was announced that Doug MacLean as President and GM, most received the news with great joy. MacLean had led the nascent Florida Panthers to a Stanley Cup Final as a coach. Many hoped he could do the same for Columbus. While the Jackets have not yet achieved the successes of Florida (or for that matter, Nashville and Minnesota), they are still a relatively young franchise. There is sentiment in the Columbus media that the GM (and interim coach of the team for one year) is generally a pretty smart guy, who is leading the organization in the right direction. As an avid consumer of the local media, I’ve been inclined to believe the analysis. Taking a more objective look, I’m inclined to at least consider other options.

While MacLean has drafted fairly well (though it is arguably too soon to tell with most players), one could argue that the free agent acquisitions in the past have not been of championship caliber. It seems for every draft stud (Nash, Zherdev, Brule, etc.); there is at least one acquisition dud (Lachance, Delmore, Brathwaite, etc.) While there have been very few complete busts that have donned the interesting CBJ logo (Lachance aside), it seems that many players under-perform while playing for the Jackets. Surely this can’t be MacLean’s fault? Remember Grant Marshall, Darryl Sydor, Todd Marchant, Andrew Cassels, Jaroslav Spacek, and more? All of them are decent players that never seemed to live up to expectations in Columbus. Could it be because the media touts each new arrival in Columbus as the final piece to put the team over the top? While it should be expected that teams should seek to improve their squad with new acquisitions, it is not very realistic to expect that every addition will promise a sip from Lord Stanley’s Cup.

MacLean and the Jackets top brass have chosen a direction for the organization. This is to grow the team from within and develop the young players with assistance from some experienced individuals. If you take a former Cup winner (Sydor) and put him on a young, inexperienced team he will likely struggle. And while the fans have not seemed to grasp the concept as a whole, the management has also not done a great job of reminding everyone of “the plan”. It is tough for sports lovers in Columbus to accept failure as they have been spoiled for years by the Buckeyes. But if fans were reminded occasionally that the organization was taking a tack that should lead them to being very competitive (likely within the next one to three years), perhaps the local critics would be slightly tempered in their criticism. Not likely, but one can hope. So the question remains, what kind of GM is Doug MacLean? Stay tuned to find out.

Thanks for reading, come back soon.

h1

Quiet times

February 7, 2006

Busy season over

With all meaningful NFL contests completed, the busy season (yes, all three days) of EOB’s sports-watching year is complete. While there are four major sports (some still contend) and a slew of minor sports to follow, EOB only follows football (college and professional) and hockey (professional) religiously. Professional baseball does get its share of attention in the EOB household, but not to the extent of the aforementioned sports. College basketball will be watched intently during the month of March for obvious (pool) reasons, but professional basketball is ignored completely. Most of the minor sports get little to no attention in my book. This isn’t to say they aren’t athletes (at least until I decide to tackle that column on poker/racing), I just don’t enjoy watching golf/bowling/etc. So now I have to focus my attention on the NHL, and find something else to write about. Possible items include the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic, and the basketball Buckeyes attempting to make the NCAA field.

Super Bowl?

The game is over and it can easily be said that I’m happy it’s so. The Steelers outlasted the Seahawks to win 21-10. Feel good stories that came out of the game include sending The Bus into retirement with a championship (good for him), Big Ben becoming the youngest quarterback to win the big one (who doesn’t like this guy?), and Bill Cowher finally getting a ring (like him or not, he’s earned it). Me, I’m just excited I don’t have to hear any more crappy press on the Seahawks. Sure, they were the best team in the NFC this year (big whoop) but there is just something about this team that I don’t like. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s there. In the past as they’ve had Kreig, Largent, Waters, Galloway; and it’s always been easy to like players on a team that was perpetually crappy. Some things shouldn’t change. On the other hand, it should give me (as a Cleveland fan) a little hope that even the perennial losers have a chance. Maybe next year we’ll have the opportunity to hate another team that shouldn’t do well (thankfully it wasn’t the Bengals too long this year!)

Canucks 7 – Bluejackets 4

All that goes up must come down. Seriously, how long could the Bluejackets keep winning? After spending the better part of two weeks defying gravity, Columbus began its decent to earth on Monday night while losing to the Canucks. I didn’t get to watch the game, but anytime you give up five power-play goals it probably wasn’t as pretty as a sugar-coating GM would like you to believe. That said, I really have to commend the team for how they’ve played lately. The Bluejackets have played tough hockey, won close games, come from behind, and in general done the things that good hockey clubs do. I don’t expect this on a daily basis from this team, they’re still too young. But the signs are promising that consistent good hockey is around the corner. Pundits suggested before the start of the season that this would be the year for Columbus to challenge for a post-season bid. I will still stand by my belief that this is still one or two seasons away. If management can keep the core of the team (read: youth) together then the fans of Columbus will be rewarded for their patience, assuming it continues.

Thanks for reading. Come back soon.

h1

Today is the day

February 5, 2006

The Super Bowl is [finally] upon us. After today, football is sadly over for another eight months. No more poring over fantasy stats, watching the big plays, and wasting my Sunday’s in front of a television. Now, thanks to ESPN not picking up the NHL, I’m relegated to hoping for a Bluejackets game on Sunday’s or *gasp* doing home improvement projects.

This morning I played a little bit of Madden ’06 on the PS2. Steelers vs Seahawks at Ford Field. The game was a tough matchup, with neither team scoring an offensive touchdown. With the second quarter winding down, the Steelers intercepted Hasselbeck and returned it for the score. This would prove to be the difference. Late in the fourth, just inside the warning, the Seahawks drove to the inches line making it third and goal. Alexander is stuffed on third down for no gain, and Engram catches a pass on fourth down only to get one foot in bounds and turn the ball over. I don’t think that the actual game will be so low scoring, but I also don’t think this will be a runaway for either team. My prediction is the Steelers winning, with the final score somewhere around 21-17.

Tomorrow, the Jackets go for six in a row against Vancouver and try to finish strong before the Olympic break.

Thanks for reading.

h1

War of the Words, The Streak Continues, Olympic Fever?

February 3, 2006

Because I have to…

It’s a well known rule. Page 58 of the Sports Blog Writer’s Handbook specifically states that in the two weeks before the Super Bowl, something must be written about the big game each day. Since I just started yesterday and don’t want to lose my license so soon, I have no choice but to comply.

The “War of Words” between Steelers linebacker Joey Porter and, well… Joey Porter has gotten a bit overplayed. Seattle tight-end Jeramy Stevens made the comment that he hates to ruin the homecoming of Jerome Bettis by helping the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. Porter, with his proclivity for foaming idiocy, questioned what right a player of Stevens’ caliber had to make such a comment, and basically stated that the gloves were off. What ever happened to good-natured banter between teams (I’m assuming that this was at one point in time possible?)
I have no problem with players talking about how they are going to win their upcoming game, whether it is the Super Bowl, exhibition game, practice challenge, etc. I’ve always been a firm believer that if you don’t believe you are going to win, you shouldn’t bother playing. It’s not like Stevens said this directly to Jerome Bettis to belittle him. Stevens was asked about the hoopla surrounding “The Bus,” and he responded with a light-hearted gesture. Athletes today get so wrapped up in their “Perceived Status of Manhood,” that they are unable to see the comments for what they are. The proper thing to do in that situation is to respond with a little jab of your own, and proceed to kick some butt in the game.

This is not the first time that Porter has been involved in trash-talking, nor will it likely be the last. Some points that may be discussed are whether this distracts the team (not likely), if it hurts or helps either team (not likely), or why we care (because the NFL insists on having two weeks before the most over-hyped game in all professional sports and there is no other football news to speak of). Mostly, I just can’t wait for Sunday to come and go so the mouths can stop flapping and the legs will start running. Here’s to football.

Bluejackets-2 – Oilers-1 F/SO

I was unable to watch the entire game, so I can really only comment on a bit of the first period, the entire third, overtime, and shootout. Overall, it looks like even though the Jackets are not playing their best they’re able to win games. Both nights in Alberta, the Jackets looked noticeably slower on the ice than the home team. All this on the supposedly “fast” ice in Calgary and Edmonton. While I do not doubt those who say it’s fast, it’s painfully obvious that for most of the game that the Bluejackets are not. Perhaps in the few days off before facing Vancouver the boys should work on breaking out of the defensive zone.

In the third period, shortly after leaving the penalty box for a (yes, it was definitely an elbowing) penalty, Scott Staios scored the first goal of the contest. This put the home skaters in the driver’s seat. The Jackets couldn’t make anything happen on a subsequent power play. With around five to go, the announcing team questioned what line combinations Gallant would use to try and even the score. No sooner than the question was posed, did a Zherdev deke leave Dick Tarnstrom flat on the ice and the puck found it’s way into the net. Two games, two nights, two Zherdev goals to send the game into overtime. While the extra five minutes did seem decidedly “Bluejackets,” the visitors were unable to net one and the shootout was on. The back-and-forth was riveting (even at 11:30 PM) and after Jason Chimera beat a sprawled goaltender in the eighth round, Marc Denis finally made the big stop to give the Jackets their franchise-record fifth consecutive win. The team goes for number six on Monday night in Vancouver.

Olympics, anyone?

Unlike the days of my youth, I find it incredibly difficult to get excited about the Olympics (winter or summer). I suppose that is part of getting older, and nobody said that was easy. In the upcoming games, I’m looking forward to the hockey tournament, speed skating, and maybe the luge. The downhill skiing is always fun, but this year we have to suffer with Bode Miller so it’s soured a bit. It’s guys like him that make people hate Americans. Or maybe it’s guys like him that make people hate spoiled jocks, yeah… that’s the ticket. If I have to hear one more time how often he’s skied down a hill still hung-over from the previous evening, I think I’ll ski down a hill drunk. Is this really a story? I guess so, I’m writing about it. I just don’t understand how he can decry the media attention to his story, after he has willingly (presumably) granted interviews with 60 Minutes and Rolling Stone recently. It seems he doesn’t want people to know that he’s trying to get his name out there as much as possible. Bode, we’re not stupid… we just don’t care.

The weekend ahead

This weekend, we have the big Colorado/Detroit hockey contest on national television, and the Super Bowl, at last. Surely there is a plethora of other games being played this weekend, but none that I care about.
Thanks for reading. Come back soon.

h1

The newsletter has been scrapped

February 2, 2006

This is the media that will replace my former attempt at a newsletter. Where the past dealt only with the Blue Jackets, the future will deal with all sports as desired with a side of life. Where the past was a newsletter that only got out once to three people, the future will be a blog available for all to find. Where the past didn’t happen, the future will. Okay, enough with the comparisons. Let’s get on to the sports.

In hockey news, the CBJ posted their fourth consecutive victory last night as they edged the Calgary Flames 2-1 in a shootout win. The game was gritty and low scoring, as expected. Jarome Iginla opened the scoring early in the first with a wicked wrist shot that seemed to handcuff goaltender Marc Denis. It didn’t look good for the Jackets. Both teams continued to pound each other until Calgary was unfortunate enough to take two delay of game penalties in six seconds. This set the stage for a one-timer goal from the left circle by Nikolai Zherdev. Rusty Klesla, having one of his “on” nights, delivered the check of the evening as he flattened a young Calgary player crossing into the offensive zone. If we could see this Rusty on a nightly basis, I’d be more apt to not think he’s dangerously close to ‘not good’ status. I realize he’s only 23, and that NHL defensemen take longer to develop than does a forward. Time will tell on this young man. Overtime saw the Jackets survive an Iginla chance, and go to a shootout. Balastik and Nash both scored on their opportunities as Denis stoned both Amonte and Iginla for the win. The four wins equals the franchise high set twice before. Columbus goes for number five tonight in Edmonton.

Are the Bluejackets of January for real, or are they getting lucky at all the right times? They had the best month in franchise history, and won points from the Rangers, Avalanche, Canucks, and Predators while doing what they should against the lesser NHL teams. Every hockey team loses games, but for the Jackets to take the next step they will have to put together sixty minute games and learn to compete against Detroit. The games against Detroit this year (save one) have not been pretty. The Red Wings are a good puck possession team, but Columbus repeatedly looks lost against them. If Columbus can progress in it’s competitiveness against this team, they will find themselves deserving the respect and earning the attention they probably are beginning to command.

The Super Bowl is right around the corner. While there are a few neat story lines, I really don’t care about the game or who wins. If I have to pick, I’m pulling for the Steelers because they share the AFC North with the Browns and I don’t mind Bettis and Roethlisberger. That said, I have to watch the game because everybody knows that this is the biggest sporting event of the year. In all other major sports, you get at least four games to decide a champion. Football affords each team one chance to claim the prize, and lately it has been a game worth watching. So, as the dutiful owner of a sports blog and American heritage I’ll watch the game.

Spring training is almost here as well. It’s very tough for me to get excited about this as well. Each year the Reds do much to tease their fans in the first two to three months of the year, only to have Griffey get injured and falter as the All-Star break passes. Lack of pitching has been a team hallmark for many years now, and it remains to be seen if the trend will continue. The bigger problem for me has been bigger than Cincinnati as far as baseball is concerned, and extends to the game as well. It’s tough to put a finger on any one thing that upsets me about the game the held my attention in my youth, but I can name a few things. Steroids are one. I realize that performance enhancers are likely a part of any sport, college or professional. But when baseball players started looking like professional wrestlers (McGwire, Sosa, Caminiti, Bonds, etc), the game began to sour for me. My last fond memory in baseball is Cal Ripken, Jr. rounding the field after breaking the consecutive games played record. Before that it was the Reds winning the series in ’90. It was nice seeing the Red Sox get the monkey off their back in ’04, but that brings me to my next problem. Monetary disparity between teams in Major League Baseball. This problem has plagued other sports, and there have been salary caps instituted with no major consequences. Until baseball does the same (instead of a weak “luxury tax” system currently in place), I will not be a huge fan. Boston fans calling the Yankees “The Great Satan” is very much the pot calling the kettle black. Until teams like Milwaukee, Kansas City, etc. can compete on the same field as the Yankees, Red Sox, etc., the game will not be America’s past-time. Some of the problem can be attributed to owners not spending as much as they could, but many owners could not afford to pay the Yankees or Red Sox payrolls.

Barry Bonds is set to pass Babe Ruth on the home-run list this year, and I for one hope that he remains out of the lineup permanently. I was an admirer of Bonds in the early ‘90’s when he was a speedy outfielder that could hit for power and average. When he began to bulk up, going from somewhere around 180-190 to what looks like 230-245, admiration turned to loathing. These things do not happen naturally. It’s disappointing that some of the game’s most revered records may soon be held by a cheater. Sure, nothing is proven at this point. But the proof is in the pudding, or “Cream”, or whatever crap he’s on that makes him “The Greatest Hitting Machine Alive”. I hope baseball outs him before he passes Ruth or Aaron and the powers that be have to decide what to do with his “records”.

That’s all for now. I’m sure (if anybody actually reads this) that I’ve given you something to think about, if nothing else. Drop a comment if you want, or shoot me an e-mail (aharris9@columbus.rr.com) if you have any ideas. Thanks for reading.