Monday, January 31, 2005

January 31, 2005

THE ETERNAL HYPE:

I can’t take it anymore. Six more days until the Super Bowl? I’m already sick of Freddie Mitchell and Terrell Owens. How many more “obscure player profiles” can we read in the Globe & Herald? How many more local news reporters can we send off to Jacksonville? My God, I think Jane Lopes is down there as a correspondent for the Middleboro Gazette.

BIRDS WHO TAKE FLIGHT:

Of course, when it comes to the Philadelphia wide receivers, my thoughts turn away from the two chuckleheads, Owens & Mitchell, to the one wide receiver who has the (warning, dangerous term used in conjunction with a football player ahead) potential to turn the tide of this game—Todd Pinkston.

Pinkston, known in Fantasy Football circles as the kiss of death (due to his showing up on your roster immediately causing a downward spiral), has fantastic physical gifts. He’s tall, he’s fast, he’s strong, and he’s in a comfort zone of having run the same offense for numerous years with the same starting quarterback. Somehow, though, he never fulfills that rich potential.

Pinkston, if he’s on his game, can make the tough catches across the middle, snatch away the sideline pass from the defenders, run away from single coverage, and out-jump a defender in the end zone. Of course, as Pinkston has repeatedly shown over the years, he can curl up in the corner of the field and become a non-factor after getting hit and pushed around. Carolina last year in the NFC Championship Game simply mauled the poor guy. He was running slants with his head on a swivel, looking for defenders instead of the ball. He was completely taken completely out of the game.

Incredibly, no one in Atlanta watched that game last year. Free to run off the line with no jamming, no getting hit and pushed around, Pinkston had a good game against the Falcons in the NFC Championship game last week. With Owens likely a non-factor even if he plays, Freddie Mitchell already being lined-up for the big hit by the Patriots secondary, Todd Pinkston could be the Eagles’ make-or-break player in the Super Bowl.


SAMMY SOOSER IS HERE…WHERE’S MIKE MCGUIRE?

Heck, for $12.5 million, I’d have taken Sammy Sosa off the Cubs hands. Seriously, good for the Orioles. I hope they sell some tickets and make some money off the deal. A club desperate for pitching and they pick up…an overpriced, defensive liability, declining power, malcontent outfielder. Good job. Another 77-84 season is looming over the horizon.

Sosa, of course, could bounce back. Then again, my cat, Slim Mimit, could start explain the theory of relativity to me. OK, maybe it’s not that unlikely. In fact, my gut tells me it could be a good move for Sammy to get a fresh start on a new team in a new league. Think Roger Clemens being leaving the Red Sox back in 1997, for example. A switch to the American League allows Sosa to be used as a designated hitter, which should save some wear and tear without sacrificing at-bats. Also, Baltimore has Javy Lopez and Miguel Tejada in the line-up, which will offer better protection to him than Moises Alou and Aramis Ramierez.

A healthy, happy Sammy Sosa is good for the game of baseball.


PREVIEW OF COMING EVENTS:

I’m looking into the Red Sox off-season moves and am really excited about how Theo Epstein’s master plan has unfolded. A little more research and fact checking will have that ready for publication this week. Also, that should segue into a look into the Sox’s pitching staff this year, and why I believe it is a primed for 100 wins and another run for the post-season prize.

Also, I’m planning to enjoy the hype all week long for the most important event of the year: the beginning of the Arena Football League. Seriously, I’d like to touch on the AFL. But this week will be dominated by talk about the Patriots on their march to Jacksonville.

Thank you all, as always, for coming along for the ride.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

January 26th, 2005

YOUR AFC (yawn) CHAMPION (ho-hum) PATRIOTS:

This is a jaded sports nation here in New England. Yankee Humiliating & World Champion Red Sox. Multi-Super Bowl Champion Patriots. The Bruins haven't lost a game a months! (What, they still play hockey in Boston, right?) We're spoiled. And I
LOVE it!

I, and many older than me, remember the Patriots. Not the Bob Kraft Patriots. The Sullivan family/Victor Kiam/James Orthwein Patriots. Not a lot of happy memories there. Even the only Super Bowl of that sad sack era was so horribly tainted. The drug scandals that rocked the team during that time period and Irving Fryars' erratic behavior tainted that season.

Personally, my Dad, the man who allowed me the privilege of watching sports (which my sisters still resent to this day: "We couldn't watch TV, but HE watches the stupid Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins.), had just undergone a quadruple bypass. This was 1986, not exactly the refined, precise medicine of today. The Patriots were a took a bit of back seat that winter.

On the field, they beat the Jets in the playoffs (OK, not much of an upset, I admit), then the Raiders (marred by Howie Long & Matt Millen clubbing the obnoxious Pat Sullivan. Somehow I don't see Jonathan Kraft taunting the opponents after a playoff game.), finally the Dolphins (SQUISH THE FISH, BABY!), before unraveling in the Super Bowl and having the Bears "Super Bowl Shuffle" all over there whipped butts.

On a side note, even the "Squish the Fish" game was anti-climatic to me. A few weeks
previous during the regular season, the Pats went down to the Orange Bowl on a
Monday night, and SHOUD have won the game. They had the Sons of Shula beaten,
on a rare national stage, and somehow lost the game. I knew that the second time
they'd handle the 'phins with aplomb. They certainly did, and then some. A great
defensive game that day by the Pats.

Anyway, to get back to the point, we are becoming numb to Patriots success. We're turning into those obnoxious fans that can't even fathom their team losing a single game. I remember brooding for the entire week when the Pats lost. I don't anymore. I shake it off before the game is over because I KNOW they'll rebound and come back strong.

No one was running out to get "AFC Champions!" gear in the blizzard. But if it there had been a blizzard after the first AFC Championship
game versus Pittsburgh (AKA Drew Bledsoe's Final & Finest Patriots Moment) we'd
be standing ten deep in the snow waiting for the stores to open. It was FRESH.
It was EXCITING. It was NEW.

I try to remember how it felt. Even '96 when the Tuna bailed out on the team and Max Lane couldn't slow down Reggie White. It was an amazing feeling. It didn't feel the same last year or this year. But I'm going to cherish it. I'm going to recapture that feeling. We could be 86 years away from another Super Bowl. I'm not going to waste it. I'm not going to gloss over it. I'm going to remember the days of Matt Cavanaugh, Steve Grogan, Tony Eason, and Scott Zolak at QB. Robert Weathers, Reggie Dupard, Tony Collins, and Marion Butts in the backfield. Marv Cook as the hope at tight end. John Hannah and four guys off the street playing on the line. Hart Lee Dykes and Irving Friar running from defensive backs while running from the law. And
the countless others who I dare not remember because they're hidden in the painful
past. These next two weeks I'll be on Pro-Football-Reference.com combing through
those horrible teams of the past to make sure I never forget to appreciate what
we have right now.

THE GREEN ARE FINALLY LOADING SOME BULLETS IN THE BARREL

It's time to take the plunge.

No, it's not the time to jump on the Celtics bandwagon-that's two or three years away. In two years the nucleus of point guard Delonte West, swingman Tony Allen, power forward Al Jefferson, and center Kendrick Perkins will finally give the Celtics a mature, young, athletic talented starting five that can compete with the powers of the NBA. Note, I said starting five when I only listed four. That's because the last starter on the Celtics 2007 Eastern Conference Champions team is still unknown.

Here's what I know: it had better not be Ricky Davis or Paul Pierce.

Davis, a great talent, is a few bolts short of a Frankenstein monster at best. He, and Jiri Welsch, make a deadly combo of hustle and instant offense coming off the bench to play the swingman positions (small forward/big guard or the 2 & 3 for you basketball purists). Starters? Nope.

Paul Pierce has somehow morphed into a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. How did
he go from legitimate NBA stud to an angry, Tracy McGrady-ish figure? The man
is begging for a fresh start somewhere else (kind of like his pal, Antoine Walker.
How's it going playing for the quasi-expansion Atlanta Hawks, 'Toine?). He needs
to go. Plain and simple. He's no longer a leader. His defensive play has inexplicably slipped. He has too many off-nights shooting the ball. He's just not an impact player anymore.

The base is there. It's time to clear the fat, give up on this hopeless season of fighting to reach .500 play, and trade some junk to get some Ping-Pong balls. As horrible as Danny Ainge's first draft appeared to be (Perkins is a legit future center, but he definitely is on the Mao's 5 year plan. Sorry, Marcus Banks. A shooting guard in a point guard's body doesn't cut it in the NBA.), last year's draft was tinged in red (as in Red Auerbach). Al Jefferson, if the draft was held again right now, would be a top 5 (maybe even top 3) pick, Delonte West, once he's healthy, will have people think they're seeing Dennis Johnson at the point (minus the pock-marked face), and Tony Allen, a pick in the 20's (which is where most NBA teams draft players with an eye on possibly, in three years, if they show remarkable improvement, consider bringing over from an overseas team), is already not only starting, but starring!

Yes, they're young and they're going to have a bunch of clunkers to go with the flash of hope, but the future waits for no one. Danny Ainge, build around these future stars in earnest immediately! Trade anyone else with value. Trade Paul Pierce for picks or expiring contracts. Trade Gary Payton at the trade deadline to a legitimate contender. Trade Walter McCarty and Marcus Banks for bag of balls if you can get it. Give Mark Blount away to the highest bidder (hint, former coach Jim O'Brien in Philly always loved him). Blow 'em up, get some more young talent. Draft another impact player or two. We've been waiting 20 years for the green to win a championship again-we can wait another couple years to do it right.

* * *

All
Content By: Hal Bent - Copyright 2005.

No
portion of the articles or photographs may be reproduced without the express written
consent of the author.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

January 20, 2005

Ahh, lunch break: the best time of the day for wanna-be sportswriters sitting in their wanna-be cubicles who have a laptop and whose train was delayed an hour this morning and had time to kill.

Thanks in advance for being my unwilling audience whether you want to or not (Of course, you can be like most and delete it just by looking at the title and saying: "Not free porn? DELETE!!!"

Anyway, without further delay:

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP:

Am I the only one scared of the Steelers? NFL road games are always tough and never a gimme (OK, I concede Arizona). And, yes, Bill Cowher's brain goes as hard & pointy as his chin on the sidelines during big games, but Pittsburg's defense is for real--heck, it's practically a mirror-image of the Pats: grunt-linemen; awesome LBs; hard-hitting secondary. Also, I'm not sold on Roethlishamburgler, but it's not like Kordell Stewart is going to be back there firing three 4th quarter interceptions. Just being Kordell-free (Or Neil O'Donnell-free!) is a big plus for the Steelers. IBWT (In Belichek We Trust), I guess.

Basically, the game breaks down to the Pats needing to do what they need to do every game:
1) Stop the Run; 2) Create pressure on QB with 4 man rush; 3) Run ball & control clock; 4) Spread the defense and create mismatches by having the safeties cover receivers/running backs/tight ends when passing.

I didn't remember until reading a great piece on a superb site http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com how banged-up the Pats were last time in Pittsburg: Dillon (RB), Pass (FB), Branch (WR), Ashworth (T) all out and Light (T), & Law (CB) out early in game. Also, Faulk (RB) in his first real game action all year after being injured. Heck, 34-20 loss--we played pretty damned good all things considered!

I'll also add, that in the past two years, the Pats have lost four games--all four games have one thing in common: The Pats committed four or more turnovers.

So if we keep the turnovers in check, slow down the Steelers offense, take advantage of any matchup we can get of Steelers safety Troy Polamalu covering Daniel Graham, we have a great chance of pulling out a big win. (I mean the Pats--isn't it annoying when fans refer to a team as "we"? And yes, I do it all the time. But we're not playing. Heck, I'm just throwing stuff at the TV while I sit my butt on the couch. If I had to block a superbly conditioned professional athlete for even one play I'd be run over and flattened like a pancake.)

I like the Pats chances Sunday night--something like 23-17 for the final score--I just get nervous being the favorite when Larry Bird isn't on the roster.

* * *
RED SOX:

Yes, less than a month until spring training!

Check out this story by Bill Simmons (fka Boston Sports Guy) about the Sox's Coma Guy: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/050120

Of course, when I heard Red Sox and Coma, I immediately thought of former managers John McNamara, Ralph Houk, and Joe Morgan. One of my favorite memories watching the Sox highlights of a spring training game on one of the local news channels six o'clock news sports segments, and Johnny Mac dozed off during the game--and after every Sox highlight (or lowlight as was the case in this particular game) they'd cut to the shot of McNamara unconscious in the dugout. Hilarious. I still laugh thinking about it twenty years later.


* * *

Well, back to work for poor little me. If you got this far, thanks for humoring me and reading the incoherent ramblings, as always, thanks for the time.

All Content By: Hal Bent mailto:halbent@aol.com
Hal Bent Copyright 2005

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