Monday, January 21, 2008

Teflon Brett Strikes Again

It's amazing. Despite what everyone saw in last night's NFC Championship Game, this morning, it appears that only a handful of sportswriters had the stones to call out Brett Favre for his typically brainless playoff game performance.

Favre has an uncanny knack for showing up in playoff games and playing like your little brother who is losing to you by three touchdowns in Madden '08. He forces throws, he makes terrible decisions, and he generally loses his shi --err, I mean his composure (if he was playing a video game, he'd undoubtedly throw his controller at the TV). In the end, he makes a play so ugly that a Pop Warner QB would be benched for it, and nobody calls him on it. Instead, we get poignant camera shots of the great man slumping off toward the locker room with his shoulders hunched. These usually alternate with images of his teary-eyed wife. Awww.

I swear, the whole country has a massive man crush on the guy.

Well, if Vinny and I are among the last heterosexuals in America when it comes to Brett Favre, so be it. We've been telling you guys for years that Favre is an overrated player, and he proved that again yesterday. When it came to crunch time, the New York Giants tried everything in their power not to win the NFC Championship, while Brett did all he could to make damn sure that they went home with it.

The interception that he threw in overtime last night ranks with the worst ever. However, as a testimony to his own greatness, it isn't even his own personal best. That honor belongs to the lame duck heave that Teflon Brett tossed up for grabs four years ago against the Eagles. Remember that one?

And yet, does he get raked over the coals for his performance? Of course not. Instead, even the New York media hosts a pity party for the guy. Unbelievable.

Thank goodness for the Internet, one of the few places aside from Philadelphia where the Emperor definitely has no clothes.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Ice Bowl

Looks like they're predicting sub zero temperatures for tomorrow's game in Green Bay. Anyway, since that's the case, I thought some of you might be interested in this series of posts from a Packer blog featuring photographs of fans, players and coaches on the day of the famous Ice Bowl game.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Great Day for the Vikings

You don't have to pinch yourselves, CSU hoops fans. It really happened. Those fans charging the court last night? Yup, they weren't an illusion. The Cleveland State University basketball team really did stick it to #12 Butler, 56-52, for their first win over a ranked opponent since their legendary 1986 NCAA tournament run.

How great was it? So great that even Bill Livingston is pleasant this morning.

Led by J'Nathan Bullock's 14 points and nine rebounds, the Vikings capped their best week of basketball in decades by knocking off Butler, a mid-major superpower more accustomed to slaying college basketball's Goliaths than taking one on the chin from a college basketball David like CSU. The Vikings did it in style, too. They took an early lead and trailed only once in the game, despite the fact that Butler managed to knot the contest up on seven separate occasions.

There were a lot of contributors last night for the Vikings, but this season, there usually have been. In addition to Bullock, Cedric Jackson had 14 points, four assists, and five steals. Warrensville Heights' own Joe Davis came off the bench to score 13 points. Davis was 5 for 7 from the field, which is even more impressive when you consider that he was 3 for 4 from beyond the arc.

Davis's performance was another example of the kind of bench support that the Vikings have been getting this season. Going into last night's game, CSU's bench was averaging 25.6 points per game. They didn't come near to matching that last night, but they did contribute 15 points, while Butler's bench contributed 17. That's not so bad when you consider that Butler has the vaunted three point specialist Pete Campbell coming off the bench for it.

Last night's victory comes off of two straight road upsets of Detroit Mercy and defending Horizon League champion Wright State. The Vikings started this three game swing in sole possession of first place in the Horizon League, but I doubt very many pundits thought they'd be there now. But the Vikings sent a loud and clear message to the rest of the league over the course of the last week, and they added an exclamation point to it last night -- the road to the Horizon League title runs through Cleveland!

It's been a long, long wait for CSU fans, and although there were only 5,300 in attendance last night at the Wolstein Center, that's the most that have been there since they put the curtain up three seasons ago. I've got a feeling that three times that many people will claim to have been there. If that means fans are waking up to what's been going on at CSU this season, then I guess that's okay by me.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Next Best Thing

If the Browns can't be in the playoffs, then the next best thing as far as I'm concerned is an NFC Championship Game between the Giants and the Packers at Lambeau Field.

When I was a kid, I developed this kind of Manichean world view when it came to the NFL. There were a number of teams that I wasn't truly a fan of, but that I classified as belonging to the NFL's "forces of light." The forces of light consisted mostly of old school teams who could trace their origins back to the original NFL or the AAFC. I generally felt positive toward those teams, as long as they weren't playing my team.

On the other hand, most of the AFL teams, along with any team from California, any Southern team, and the Dallas Cowboys, fell into my "forces of darkness" category. For those teams, I wished nothing but misery. In fact, about the only way I could've seen myself rooting for them back in those days would have been if they somehow ended up playing the Soviet Union.

I've pretty much kept this classification system until this day, although I've tinkered with it a bit over the years. For example, I briefly moved the Cowboys into the "forces of light" category the year that Bernie played for them, and I've also updated my worldview to make sure that carpetbagger teams like the Colts, Rams, and Cardinals are appropriately placed in the "forces of darkness" camp.

What about Baltimore? Well, let's put it this way. If we were still in the middle of the Cold War and the Ravens played the Russians, I'd pull for the Russians.

If you're a Browns fan, a classification system like this comes in pretty handy. After all, when your favorite team misses the playoffs in 13 out of its last 15 seasons, you need to figure out somebody to root for just to make the playoffs interesting. For me, it's always easy -- just find the oldest old school team in the playoff tournament and adopt it for however long it makes its run.

That's why this year's NFC Championship game has such an attraction for me. It doesn't get more old school than the Giants and the Packers, playing in single digit temperatures, on real grass. These teams have met five times for NFL championships, but the last time was more than 45 years ago. On Sunday, they'll meet again. Hell, they're even wearing the same uniforms they wore in 1962. I hope it snows.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Tell Romeo It Was Strictly Business. I Always Liked Him."

I've often thought that you can learn most things that you need to know about life by watching The Godfather, and it's starting to look like the Cleveland Browns' decision to consign Todd Grantham to the ash heap of history is a case in point.

Browns fans were surprised earlier this week when Grantham, who was given a three-year extension last June and who had been mentioned as a possible successor to Romeo Crennel, was fired from his position as the team's Defensive Coordinator. The surprise was heightened by the fact that Phil Savage had recently made statements about not wanting to make major changes in the coaching staff during the offseason.

Three days ago, John Taylor's column in The Orange and Brown Report clarified the situation, and this morning, The Plain Dealer even figured it out. As Taylor noted, several players reportedly stated that Grantham "'schemed behind RAC’s back' in an effort to get him fired before the bye so that he could take over as the interim head coach and, possibly, secure the position for years to come." The Plain Dealer quoted one insider as saying that "Grantham overplayed his hand and it backfired."

Well, I guess that makes Grantham the NFL's answer to Sal Tessio. Remember Sal? He's the one who tried to betray Michael by setting him up to be killed by the Barzini family after Don Corleone's death. When Tom Hagen told Tessio that it was time to go, and that he should bring his playbook with him, he figured out that he'd overplayed his hand:

Tessio: Can you get me off the hook, Tom? You know, for old times' sake?
Tom Hagen: Can't do it, Sally.
Tessio: Tell Michael it was strictly business. I always liked him.
Tom Hagen: He understands that.
I'm sure Romeo Crennel understands it too, Todd. But the bottom line's the same. As far as the Cleveland Browns are concerned, Todd Grantham sleeps with the fishes.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


There's just no substitute for punching Charlie Bauman right in the kisser.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Hang On Sloopy

I don't have much to add to everything that's been written about Ohio State's clash tonight with LSU, except to say that even for a Notre Dame fan like me, it would be really sweet to see the Buckeyes stick it to the pride of the SEC in their own backyard. I think they are perfectly capable of doing just that, and after last year's humiliation at the hands of Florida, I've got to believe that the Buckeyes are positively frothing at the mouth.

The key thing for Tressel is to effectively channel the team's rage. Football is a game that is best played with controlled fury, but there is such a thing as being too high for a game. If a coach isn't careful, a team on an emotional high can end up running out of gas as soon as the initial adrenaline rush passes. More importantly, teams that are too wound up tend to be brittle, and can collapse when they face the adversity that they'll inevitably confront when playing a quality opponent in a hostile environment.

The best news for Buckeye fans is that Jim Tressel knows all of this better than just about anybody else. Last year's game was about as uncharacteristic a performance as I've ever seen from a Jim Tressel team, and I don't think we're in for a repeat tonight. Ohio State will be ready.

I also like the fact that nobody expects the Buckeyes to win this game, and I'm sure that Tressel likes that too. Conventional wisdom says that LSU is a lot faster, deeper and more talented than Ohio State, which would struggle to remain in the upper echelon of the SEC if it were a member of that exalted conference.

Okay, whatever. All I can say is that I've seen LSU play quite a bit this season, and while they are certainly a good team with some tremendous players (Glenn Dorsey would look mighty good in an orange helmet), they haven't looked like a colossus to me. With the exception of its complete annihilation of Virginia Tech during the second week of the season, LSU didn't run away and hide from the better teams on its schedule. The Bayou Bengals lost games to Kentucky on the road and to Arkansas at home, beat Florida and Auburn on their last possession, and got pushed to the wall by a mediocre Alabama team.

On the other hand, with the exception of the loss to Illinois, Ohio State has been pretty workmanlike in disposing of its foes all season. Sure, Ohio State's Big 10 opponents didn't walk on water like the glorious and all powerful teams in the SEC that LSU faced, but the Bucks went 11-1 while playing four ranked teams, only one less than LSU. Ohio State wasn't as dominant offensively as it was last year, but it didn't suck either.

Even those who say that Ohio State and LSU are a good match tend to give the nod to the Tigers because the game is being played in New Orleans. A lot is being made of the home field advantage that LSU will enjoy in the Superdome, but Ohio State did beat Michigan in The Big House earlier this season, so they aren't exactly strangers to hostile environments. I know, I know -- you just can't replicate the noise in the Superdome, and LSU fans are much more rabid than Wolverine fans, who are the most gracious and polite fans in all of college sports (just ask them). Well, my guess is that LSU's fans were pretty rabid in Baton Rouge during the Arkansas game earlier this season, and yet somehow, the 8-5 Razorbacks managed to get it done.

After last season's football and basketball debacles, I know that a lot of Ohio State fans are a little more subdued than normal at the prospect of playing for a national championship. Actually, based on my conversations with many Buckeye fans, I'd describe some of them as being downright "mopey." Although I intend to throw this gloom (and feeble merchandise sales) in their faces the next time they start up with me about Irish fans being frontrunners, for now we're all on the same team, and I say -- hang on, sloopy. You can beat these guys. In fact, I think you will beat these guys.

Ohio State 28, LSU 23.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Spinning the QB Situation

Over the past couple of days, The Plain Dealer has provided a textbook illustration of how a media outlet can spin a story in the direction of controversy and then watch as the rest of the media fans it into a full blown firestorm. I'm referring to the paper's coverage of remarks that Romeo Crennel made concerning Derek Anderson's future with the Browns, and how those comments have morphed into widespread media speculation that Anderson is on the trading block.

According to The Plain Dealer, Coach Crennel's Monday press conference was highlighted by his comments that the team might listen to offers for Derek Anderson. The Plain Dealer quotes Crennel as saying that "If anybody's interested in him, we'll just have to see how it goes.... Sometimes people can make you an offer and you can say, 'No, I think I'm going to stick with what I've got.' Sometimes they make you an offer and you say, 'Oooh!' So we'll see how it goes." Based on that comment, the story in yesterday's sports section breathlessly announced that "Browns will listen to offers for DA."

Given the economics and egos involved, I don't think anyone has ever doubted that an offseason trade of Anderson is a possibility, but the funny thing is, The Plain Dealer was the only paper in Northeast Ohio to spin Crennel's remarks in a way that suggests that a trade is in the offing. Most of the other reporters at the press conference reached the conclusion that Crennel wants Anderson to stay, and that Anderson is his starting QB going into camp next year.

The stories those papers published reflect this conclusion. For example, The Akron Beacon Journal's story on the press conference was headlined "Crennel Resisting Changes at the Helm," and observed that "more emphatically than ever, Browns coach Romeo Crennel said Monday he wants Derek Anderson as his starting quarterback." The Warren Tribune-Chronicle said pretty much the same thing, as did columnist Jeff Schudel in The Lorain Morning Journal and The Lake County News-Herald.

As usual, the most thoughtful assessment of the Browns' QB situation was provided by Steve Doerschuk of The Canton Repository, but the story that has captured the attention of the national media is the one that appeared in The Plain Dealer. ESPN picked up on The Plain Dealer's take, as did The Associated Press. Now, the story is pretty much everywhere.

In fairness to the media, the fact that a team is looking to trade a guy who just won 10 games and was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl is news -- the thing is, it's pretty clear from Crennel's remarks that the Browns aren't exactly looking to do that. In fact, it's fair to ask whether Romeo Crennel actually said anything new about Anderson's situation that should foster a view that the Browns are shopping him? Given all the speculation that has already taken place about Anderson's future with the club, isn't the real news to come out of the press conference the fact that the Browns organization's preference would be to stand pat on the QB front?

While that may be the real news, I guess the real news doesn't sell papers. Controversy does, and I guess the lesson is that if the team doesn't give the media enough controversy, the media will create it for them. No wonder Romeo Crennel reportedly ended the questioning on the QB situation at his press conference by telling the reporters present that "you guys are killing me."

Romeo, I've got a suspicion that you ain't seen nothin' yet.