Archives for May 2009

It’s Ok to root for Chris Chelios

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By Paul M. Banks

One of the weirdest aspects of a rivalry is when a player changes teams, and goes to his former team’s bitterest of rivals.

Even though he’s been wearing a Detroit Red Wings sweater now for 9 years (the same number of years he was “committed to the Indian”) when Chris Chelios came to town and you just had to root for him, even though he helped do the Blackhawks in. If you didn’t then you fit in to Jerry Seinfeld’s “sports fans are rooting for clothes” routine.

(We’re currently seeing the same thing with Joe Crede leaving the Sox for the Twins) Rivalries are all about black-versus-white, but when it comes to situations like this, it’s actually a shade of grey. With an injury to all-world defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, as well as his back-up Ericcson, Chelios got his chance to contribute during the Western Conference Finals and helped his team defeat the Blackhawks 6-1 in game 4. Doing the ceremonial puck drop that game was Bob Probert another guy who played for both the Red Wings and Hawks. Chelios spoke about the playoff atmosphere:

“I had a good feeling when it was Proby, because he played for the Wings and the Hawks, everything they’ve done from the marketing to the bringing back the veterans Bobby Hull, Mikita. It’s good to see them back in the building, I’m playing hockey for one reason: because I grew up watching the Hawks,” the Evergreen Park native said.

Of course, I disagree, I think it’s disgusting that the Hawks gave Probert (a man who couldn’t play games in Canada because his cocaine-related possessions made it illegal for him to travel there, a man who’s vast array of legal problems also include his being pulled over for driving with a blood alcohol concentration triple the legal limit, a guy who’s on-ice accomplishments pretty much centered around being a thug) the puck drop and a “Heritage Night” honoring.

But enough being a negative nelly, Chelios commented after the game about how the roar has been restored in Chicago hockey. “It reminded me of being in the old stadium. It’s different when you’re on the other team, but I feed off of that and I think our team likes the atmosphere,” Chelly said.

The 47 year old University of Wisconsin-Madison alum is the second oldest player in league history (he’s older than his coach Mike Babcock) to Gordie Howe. Is this finally it for him? “Everybody’s trying to get rid of me, it’s crazy, but they’ll miss me when I’m gone, so I’ll stay around as long as someone wants me, I love playing,” Chelios said.

NBA Draft Combine Brings out the Stars

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By Paul M. Banks

When the NBA Draft Combine comes to Chicago, the Second City resembles Beverly Hills for a couple days. Strolling through the Westin Hotel on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, where the Draft Combine’s media activities are held, I encountered basketball’s heaviest hitters. The entire Chicago Bulls front office, Pistons GM Joe Dumars, NBA coaches Mike D’Antoni, Mike Dunleavy, legendary talk show host Larry King (twice) and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda; and that was just the first hour.

During the actual interview sessions, a draft combine reporter gets up close and personal with every former college basketball star soon to be drafted in a couple weeks. Each player gets his own table in the conference room and journalists rotate like speed-daters to obtain quality face time with everyone. Conversation is much more in-depth than post-game press conferences. It’s about the big picture here- no time to waste on the boringly banal queries from newspaper beat writers.jerel

On top of the media grilling, NBA prospects face tougher inquisitions from the teams themselves. Arizona’s Chase Budinger (projected 23rd) said he faced a psychological aptitude type test from the Bulls. He had to arrange blocks to match a picture they presented. NBA teams want to know if players are single, married, have kids. Multiple players had to reveal if they had a “friend with benefits.” It’s like Torquemada and your Prom date’s father rolled into one. 

The NBA amalgamates feedback from the league’s scouts and personnel, deciding which 50-60 prospects are gauging the most interest. The most elite prospects are then invited to run drills, 3 man weaves and workout (this part is closed to the media). They also take more measurements than a Playboy playmate; each player’s wingspan, vertical reach, height and weight (with and without shoes) become public knowledge. This male version of a beauty pageant can be stressful, but also fun.

Former Marquette guard Jerel McNeal projected 42nd overall in NBA Mock Draft,  “It’s been real intense, it’s been like a circus since I got down here, but it’s also been real fun so far. To be around such a great group of players and unbelievable talent, to be fortunate enough to be in this situation, you can’t help but feel excited and glad about what’s coming in the future,” said McNeal.

Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, projected 10th in this year’s draft spoke about how the combine brings together former AAU, McDonald’s All-American and Summer league teammates. “It’s cool, it’s like a big family reunion everybody reminiscing on the stories we had from summer camps, at the USA team and things like that. We’re all in competition on the court, but off the court it’s a family feeling, we just kick back, chill and talk about the good old days,” Flynn said.

There’s only one thing certain about this draft: Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin is going to the L.A. Clippers at #1. The brightest lights and greatest amount of cameras were naturally on him. And the future franchise player seems ready to become the next media darling. “I don’t mind the media…I hope I’m ready for it. I think I’m ready for it” Griffin said before answering a question about how he’ll soon see his personal privacy disappear. bgriffin2

“You just got to know that people are watching you and you got to be a positive role model and not put yourself in bad situations,” Griffin stated.

I asked Griffin what his favorite aspect of this process has been so far. “Some of the restaurants have been pretty good. That’s a big part of my life. But getting to meet people, different players and taking perspective and getting advice from them has been great,” he responded.

The Second City is famous for its food. The next day I saw him in the restaurant downstairs and asked him about his overall favorite restaurant here. He said he’s a big fan of Ditka’s, prompting another reporter nearby to endorse the joint’s steaks. Griffin then said he’s not eating much red meat right now, so I mentioned their Salmon and Tuna steaks. The future Clipper approved Ditka’s seafood. So this is life in transition to the next level, where everything’s meatier and portions of everything are much bigger. So is the number of people watching you.   

NBA Team-by-Team Breakdown

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Who needs “NBA Fastbreak?” We’re back to break down the direction and status quo of every NBA franchise…

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS…where you can experience writing like this…

The Sixers without an authoritative coach will be like a cheese steak without a grease stain on the wrapper. Just mediocre, not exceptional.” 

Ohhhh, are you serrrrrrrrrrrrious? Slam jam bam, bay

http://www.walterfootball.com/nbaoffseason2009phi.php

 
NEW YORK KNICKS

“In recent years the Knicks resembled a fantasy basketball team: lots of quality names on the roster, but no actual team concept. This lack of chemistry hurt them the most late in games when a “closer” was needed.”

SEND IT IN BIG FELLA

http://www.walterfootball.com/nbaoffseason2009nyk.php

DETROIT PISTONS

In Detroit, both the automotive industry and the professional basketball team headquartered there are in need of aggressive rebuilding options. Both have also seen better days. Despite trading Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess (who was waived and later re-signed) for superstar Allen Iverson, the Pistons regressed during the regular season, partly due to the controversial moves of first year head coach Michael Curry

http://www.walterfootball.com/nbaoffseason2009det.php

NEW JERSEY NETS

http://www.walterfootball.com/nbaoffseason2009nj.php

 

St. Louis Cardinals Streaking!

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By Jake McCormick

Baseball is great because it can be so unpredictable, yet so easy to understand. Case in point: the St. Louis Cardinals and their past 18 games.

Ten days ago, the team was on the losing end of a sweep from the Brewers and had lost seven of nine games. Since that point, St. Louis did a Michael Jackson 180 and tallied a 7-2 record, including an always enjoyable sweep of the Chicago Cubs and a vindicated two out of three games against Milwaukee.

Considering the Cardinals had lost 10 out of 11 against the Brewers dating back to last year, the monkey was thrown from their backs. Now St. Louis hopes to carry that momentum over to Friday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.

Add in a healthy Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick, and the team has to feel good about leading a division rife with injuries among all contenders. Injuries are a part of the game obviously, but the number of bodies on the disabled list in the NL Central could fill a quality fantasy team. They piled up quicker than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victims in the last half-hour of “Commando,” yet the April standings still made a strong case for the Central’s place as baseball’s toughest division.albert-pujols-homerun-diamondbacks

Tony La Russa has never been a conventional manager, frequently batting the pitcher eighth in the lineup and shuffling his lineup every day like it was an NBA draft simulation. But with Albert Pujols bodyguards Ryan Ludwick, Troy Glaus, and Rick Ankiel out of the daily lineup for the past week and a half, La Russa has been forced to play half of the Cardinals’ Triple A affiliate on a regular basis. Pujols only has 2 RBIs during the Cardinals hot streak, but has been guaranteed first base over 50 percent of his at bats- making him the new Barry Bonds, minus the arrogance, backne, and custom helmet that wouldn’t fit Darth Vader.

Because most news about Glaus this year has been negative, Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak has not denied a pre-emptive sweep of the trading market for third basemen. Colorado Rockie Garrett Atkins and Cleveland Indian Mark DeRosa would at least give the team a consistent all-around player at the hot corner.

As you would expect, replacements like Colby Rasmus, Joe Thurston, and Nick Stavinoha have filled their diapers to the brim for most of last week after some surprises from the rookies, including third baseman Brian Barden’s selection as the NL Rookie of the Month in April. I’m almost expecting Chris Duncan to walk into the batter’s box in a Green Ranger costume because of his lost power this month, and Yadier Molina has, at least temporarily, regained the form that left him undrafted in the 2006 fantasy season. Although the team has scored a deadball era 3.5 runs per game in May, the Cardinals have more than a few Huggies (codeword: pitching) in hand to make sure things stay relatively clean.dave_duncan

If a team’s pitching is great, it doesn’t matter if they score less than five runs a game. St. Louis scored more runs in its 8-1 victory over Milwaukee Tuesday than it has given up in the last nine games (seven). Tuesday’s victory was all the more significant considering it was against former Cardinal Jeff Suppan, who has been the Cardinals’ Officer Tenpenny (voiced by who else? Samuel L. Jackson) in Grand Theft Auto IV: San Andreas – nearly impossible to beat.
Chris Carpenter has yet to allow an earned run in four games and Adam Wainwright looks more and more like an ace with every start. Kyle Lohse and Joel Pineiro tend to be streaky. But Lohse continues to benefit from Dave Duncan’s powers to heal the proverbial lepers of pitching, and Pineiro has not allowed a walk or home run in his last four starts.

With Pineiro on the mound tonight, and Carpenter and Wainwright slotted for the final two games against the Giants’ resident batting practice pitcher Barry Zito and an underperforming Jonathan Sanchez, the Cardinals’ buzz should carry through the weekend like a Homecoming bender. In a pitcher-friendly ballpark with two sputtering offenses, pitching should be a deciding factor, and on paper the Cardinals can at least guarantee the computer simulations will fall in their favor.

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

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By Ailyn Diaz, of Hockey Chics and Big Hair Hockey Show

It’s rematch time for the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins, face to face, yet again in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Detroit Red Wings are looking to extend their dynasty with back-to-back Stanley Cup wins.  They accomplished a similar feat 11 years ago while the Pittsburgh Penguins are trying to win their first Stanley Cup since the classic 1992 Finals with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.

The Canadian Press has obviously likened it to the New York Islanders vs. Edmonton Oilers of 1984.   In fact, it’s the first time the same two teams have squared off in a final in consecutive seasons since Wayne Gretzky led the Oilers.   At that time, the New York Islanders finished the 1983–84 regular season tied atop the Eastern Conference while successfully defending their Patrick Division title.   The Canadian Press relates the youthful Pittsburgh Penguins to the Edmonton Oilers in talent and playmaking while the veteran Detroit Red Wings are compared to the experienced New York Islanders.

And Detroit Red Wings’ head coach Mike Babcock is looking forward to the series. “To have the opportunity against Pittsburgh should be a lot of fun,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said during a press conference.  “There will be a lot of hype.”

The hype just started and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brook Orpik believes his team has a huge advantage over the Detroit Red Wings knowing that Detroit is injury-riddled.  Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, center Pavel Datsyuk, center Kris Draper and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson all missed Game 5 against the Chicago Blackhawks during the Western Conference Finals.

But somehow, they managed to win the Blackhawks series, speaking to the Wings forward depth.   Daniel Cleary scored his eighth goal in Wednesday’s 2-1 win against Chicago while Johan Franzen leads the team with 10 goals in the postseason.  The Detroit Red Wings must be aware of Pittsburgh’s firepower, led by forwards Evegyni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. They are both tied for the NHL lead with 28 playoff points and Crosby holds the edge in goals, 14-12. Crosby and Malkin have combined for 26 goals and 30 assists in 17 playoff games. They have scored 40% of their team’s goals in the whole playoffs.  In addition, right wing Bill Guerin brings veteran experience scoring 7 goals and logging 7 assists in the postseason.

Defensively, the Detroit Red Wings count on the prowess of Niklas Lidstrom, the six time Norris Trophy Winner and 2009 finalist who hasn’t played since Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals.  He is the shutdown defenseman who minimized Patrick Kane’s scoring opportunities early throughout the series.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have shown improvement in their defensive game during the past series against the Carolina Hurricanes.  The team counted on Rob Scuderi to shutdown the offense of the fast skating ‘Canes.  He is usually partnered with Hal Gill who is not afraid to make plays despite a frame fit for a basketball player (6’ 7” tall.) The Penguins traded for him on the same day that they received Marián Hossa from the Atlanta Thrashers, helping them win the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008.

Ironically, right wing Marian Hossa now plays for the Detroit Red Wings.   The Penguins also count on Brooks Orpik to intimidate the Red Wings and on Kris Letang who has taken defensemen Sergei Gonchar’s playmaking role in previous games.

Ever since the unorthodox goaltender Dominik Hasek was removed from goal after two lackluster games against the Nashville Predators during the 2008 postseason, Chris Osgood was declared the number one goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings.  Hasek eventually retired from the NHL but continued playing in his native Czechoslovakia.  Chris Osgood’s goals against average is 2.08 while his save percentage held at an amazing .925 during the postseason.  He is a seasoned veteran facing a first round pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, Marc Andre Fleury.henrikzetterberg

Fleury made his NHL debut in 2003–04 as the youngest goaltender in the league at age eighteen.  Since then he has learned the ins and outs with the guidance of coach Gilles Meloche.  Fleury has shown maturity as the postseason evolved making crucial saves against Carolina’s Eric Staal and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin. He stands with a 2.62 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.

The series’ decisive factor will be special teams.  Despite the Detroit Red Wings close to perfect power play, the team allowed 15 goals in 16 games with a penalty kill efficiency of 73.7 percent (even worse than their penalty-killing record during the regular season) against a Pittsburgh power play that is working with more confidence than ever at 19.3 percent. Pittsburgh held Carolina to just one goal on 12 power-play opportunities in the Eastern Conference Finals with a total of 83.6 percent penalty kill efficiency.

It appears Dan Blysma will continue implementing forecheck, continuously creating turnovers and scoring chances with speed.   The Penguins must get over the fear factor of the last Stanley Cup Finals.  They confessed to be in awe of their opponents’ abilities and puck possession, a system implemented by the quick line changes of head coach Mike Babcock, a great tactician.

Predictions

The Pittsburgh Penguins will win if they are able to penetrate the core of the Detroit Red Wings’ defense and create power play chances.  As Brooks Orpik added, the Red Wings are depleted of their “biggest players.”

“I think we were so new to it we didn’t really know what to expect, and we were kind of just riding that wave of excitement,” Orpik said to the Associated Press.  “Going back to the finals [last year], we were down 2-0 before we knew it,” he added. “I think this year we’re a lot better prepared.”

Henrik Zetterberg: Crusher of Blackhawk Hopes and Dreams

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By Paul M. Banks

Although the end was not pretty, it was quite a memorable season for the Chicago Blackhawks, who long surpassed expectations: reaching the Western Conference quarterfinals for the first time since 1995. As I predicted exactly on the Big Hair Hockey Show podcast, they lost to their bitter rivals the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games. One of the biggest reasons why is Wings alternate captain and left wing Henrik Zetterberg.

Last season Zetterberg was nominated for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward, but finished as a runner-up to teammate Pavel Datsyuk. This year the league’s reigning Conn Smythe Trophy (Stanley Cup playoffs MVP) had 3 goals, an assist, and a +2 in the series.

Hawks fans, just in case you don’t have sufficient reason to dislike him…his current contract is the longest and most lucrative in Detroit history and he’s also engaged to a Swedish model and tv host. Zetterberg spoke about overcoming the Hawks despite a couple slow starts “We’ve had some trouble during the playoffs starting off well. Every game we talk about it. They’re (Chicago) coming with a lot of speed. If you execute on the first pass, it’s a lot easier for you. You know we did that today.”

There are better days ahead for the Hawks, currently the league’s youngest team, but in this series it was Detroit’s veteran savvy and composure that led to victory. Zetterberg spoke about the Wings’ response to the Hawks’ running around and attempting to chip it up in the series’ only true blowout: the Wings’ 6-1 game four victory. “We just tried to play with poise. We knew they were coming. They didn’t basically have anything else to do, you know when the game kind of ran away there. Tried to play physical, and I think the ref did a good job, made the calls, and we took advantage on the power play,” Henrik stated.

The Death of the Media Guide: 3008 to Your 2000 & Late

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By Melissa S. Wollering

Statistics crunched in 8,469+ ways—sometimes over more than a century—always encompassing a team’s entire existence.  Can you live without it?  As of the 2009-2010 season, you’ll see the beginning of the end of this desktop reference guide. You’ll be driven to the Web. The University of Wisconsin’s Athletic Department is part of the trend; will your team follow?

On Thursday, three Big 10 schools announced they will stop printing their beloved media guides. Michigan and Ohio State have already stopped production of the guides for all of their sports and say the information will be available on the Web. Michigan and Ohio State estimate they will save a combined $250,000 per year as a result of the decision. That’s enough to purchase approximately 416 Fergie-inspired Hewlett-Packard notebooks to make their athletes smarter.

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University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez says his department will stop printing media guides for all UW sports.  He says the move will save the school $200,000 and the trend doesn’t stop at the collegiate level. In February, Major League Baseball ceased printing its green and red guides to the National and American leagues.  PDF versions of the information were made available to all media.

At a PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) luncheon that I attended at the Hilton in downtown Madison last week, featured speaker and UW Associate Athletic Director for Communications Justin Doherty addressed the death of the media guide.  He says UW will cease production of the books no later than the 2010-2011 season, possibly sooner.

Doherty says more fans and reporters are turning to his department’s website, uwbadgers.com, for the same information printed in media guides. It sounds simple.  But if you think sports organizations won’t make the leap to marketing themselves as AP-like wire services, you haven’t fully assessed the impact of the media guide’s passing.

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Badger fans can now access live streaming press conferences, player and coach post-game interviews, live game blogs, articles, analysis, pictures and even virtual tours of UW athletic facilities.  Barry Alvarez himself ‘walks’ onto your screen and greets you as enter the UW’s new multimedia experience. Doherty says it all started with an intern and one camera.

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“I asked one of our interns to capture the gameday experience one Saturday,” says UW Assistant AD for Communications Justin Doherty.  “All I gave him was a camera and he came back with this great visual story from his photographs. He took pictures of fans tailgating before the game, players on the field and students jumping around in the 3rd quarter.  We had a huge response.”

Doherty himself began to live-blog from the stands at Camp Randall. Soon he had fans and alumni from around the world following along during the game, responding with questions and checking out other parts of the website. UW’s Athletic Department now has pages on both Twitter and Facebook. It sends fans and friends updates on everything from season tickets to travel packages to breaking news.

“We have the advantage,” says Doherty. “We have full access to our own locker rooms and our coaching staff.  We are the best-equipped to provide fans with information.”

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Could the end of your favorite media guide signal the end of your traditional sports reporter? Will athletic departments eliminate the need for a ‘middleman’ if consumers trust their websites as primary sources? Will consumers fully understand that athletic departments still control the message and will proactively and strategically release information for their benefit? Have communications and public relations professionals found a way to put traditional press releases to bed along with media guides? What if WE create the news before it becomes news with our own podcasts, streaming news conferences and online articles?

Remember when your friends left journalism and reporting for the PR world?  Remember when they came back and urged you to join the ‘dark side’?  This TSB contributor is pretty glad she’s done both. My new job may become my old job faster than you can look that stat up in the ‘08 media guide on your desk. Boom, boom, boom. Let me hear that…

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Cubs, Woo! Vegas, Woo!

By Paul Schmidt

Watching the Cubs’ struggles over the last few weeks has led me to try and come up with a comparison, something that mirrors the feelings that I’ve had over the eight game losing streak they just posted, and their continual struggle to score runs.

After days of thought, the realization washed over me – The current Cubs slide completely mirrors every trip I have ever taken to Las Vegas.

Now, maybe you don’t understand that comparison – maybe you’ve never been to Las Vegas, or maybe you’re always successful gambling, flirting, and drinking while you are there (and if so, well, quite frankly, I hate you).  But that’s why I’m here, to explain an analogy that, on the surface, might not make much sense.

The Rise in Action

Every trip starts with a run.  A good run.  It’s how Vegas sucks you in.  If, as soon as you landed at McCarren International Airport, you started hemorrhaging money like Clint Malarchuk getting slashed by a skate, you’d tighten up the purse strings, spend some time by the pool and walking around seeing the sites.  Maybe even plan a trip to the Grand Canyon or Hoover Dam (well, maybe not ).

So the Vegas gambling gods really want to reel  you in.  You can only be over-confident after you’ve won a little of the house’s money.  Sometimes, even a lot of the house’s money.

The Cubs, came into May reeling a little, but won 11 of 14 games heading into May 16th.  That was the rise in the action.  Reminds me of the time, when in Vegas for a friend’s 30th birthday, I sat down on the first full day of the trip, plunked 200 dollars down at a 25-dollar-minimum blackjack table, and 2 hours later stood up with 2,200 dollars.  Did you know, the 1,000 dollar chips are colored orange at Planet Hollywood?  They are.

That’s what the rise was for the Cubs.  After the May 16th 5-4 win against the Astros, that was the season’s high water point at 21-14.  Fans were just starting to get confident, with three huge games on the road against St. Louis, and then three easier games out in San Diego looming in the coming week.

The Incident

Now not just a name of a Lost season finale!  It’s, quite obviously, an occurrence, something that happens that changes the course of action.

Every Vegas trip probably has several Incidents, but what we’re looking at here is the incident that starts the losing.  To quote Tony Soprano, “Everything I touch turns to (excrement)!”  That type of losing streak.

The incident for the Cubs was the first loss in their streak, what originally looked like a harmless 6-5 loss to the Astros in their series finale.  Brian Moehler stoned the Cubs lineup, Ivan Rodriguez hit his 300th homer, and the Cubs looked fairly disinterested offensively until the ninth inning.  Just like most other incidents, little did we all know how indicative that would be of the future.

The incident that this reminds me of was a gambling debacle that most people in Vegas won money on:  The Michigan State-George Mason first round NCAA Tournament game a few years back.  Me and friends were up big after a huge morning of backdoor covers and were flush with cash, at one point prompting this exchange between myself and a buddy:

“How much money do you actually have on this Michigan State game?”
“More than I’m really comfortable having.”
“Ok…I’m the same. Just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t alone.”

I mean, we knew we were in a little trouble here if Michigan State somehow lost to George Mason (a team that EVERYONE in the sports book had bet on, with the line moving from MSU -5 to the Spartans just laying 2.5 at game time, despite the fact Mason would be missing their best player, Tony Skinn, who had punched a player in the nards in the CAA championship game a week prior), but in the end, we would just be giving back the gains we’d made in the morning and early afternoon. But they were missing their best player!  How good could the rest of the roster be?

Well, what happened is for the history books, as Mason came through with the outright win, and continued to roll on to the Final Four.  The worst part?  Listening to the entire sports book exploding in celebration with every basket.


The place where Michigan State and Kansas killed me

The Wheels Have Fallen Off the Wagon

Now we’re getting into the heart (or heartbreak, as it were) of the Cubs’ issues. They went 27 innings in St. Louis, scoring only one earned run.  With Joel Pinero heavily involved in nine of those innings.  With a fresh-off-the-DL Chris Carpenter throwing five more.  ONE FREAKING EARNED RUN!!!! NONE SCORED BEFORE THE NINTH!!!!

Words can’t describe, except to say that our wagon was wheel-less, and perhaps even sinking into the mud a little.

In Vegas, this is when you start giving up your own money.  In large quantities.  I followed up the Michigan State loss by running to the betting window and trying to win all that cash back by betting on Kansas.  It was a ridiculously talented Kansas squad, and they’d be looking to make a good showing after choking in the first round one year before in losing to Bucknell. Plus, their opponent was from the Missouri Valley Conference.  And it wasn’t Southern Illinois or Creighton, it was Bradley!  Bradley.  I mean, come on.  There was no way that Bradley was beating the KANSAS JAYHAWKS, coached by former Illini guru Bill Self!

As some Bradley Brave torque-wad banked in a three-pointer from half court at the halftime buzzer to go ahead by double digits (I’ve drank away the memory of most of this game), I screamed in frustration to the ceiling of the Paris Hotel and Casino, then was going to stalk off to get back to my room to shower for the night’s festivities.  Before I could, I got grabbed by a little Asian guy, who told me, “Hey, it could be worse,” and pulled back his jacket to reveal a Kansas Jayhawk Alumni t-shirt.

Touché, little Asian guy, touché.

Disaster

I have a friend who pronounces the word with the emphasis on the AS of disaster, and it indicates something worse than a normal disaster, something that involves, quite frankly, a Katrina-like meltdown.

It should be obvious where this is going with the  Cubs.  Even though we had just been swept in St. Louis despite pretty good pitching, we were headed to San Diego.  And even though the Padres had won 5 straight, they still weren’t very good.  And even though the Cubs offense hadn’t been producing, come on, they had to turn it around there, right?

Well, no dice.  At this point, we all know the stories of what happened. The Cubs offense only managed three runs in Petco Park in getting swept by the Padres. They came back home to entertain the Pirates, and scored more runs in the first four innings than they had their entire road trip, but still lost by giving up 10 runs. Ted Lilly got ejected for arguing balls and strikes in a game he didn’t even pitch in.  Milton Bradley exposed a massive umpire experience against him and all board games.


And they hate Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, too…

Most importantly, the Cubs fell under .500 for the first time since April and for only the second time this season.

I wish there were only a couple examples of this from my Vegas history, but that’s just not true.  There’s the awful double-deck blackjack night at the 4 Queens after finding out I knew one of the strippers at the Glitter Gulch from college; there’s the stretch of NCAA tournament games in 2008 where I lost 11 straight bets; there’s the blackjack tables (yes that’s plural) that I lost hands on for 30 mintues straight – no wins; and there’s the time the stripper stole money from me and fell asleep on me at Sapphire.

And now I’m even sadder…


A casino.  Really.  I swear.

Denouement

The Cubs and Vegas have one very specific thing in common: They know how to suck you back in.

With the Cubs, just when you’ve given up on them they turn things around.  This time, it was in the form of two nice wins against the Pirates to get back above .500 (even if, in the end, it may cost them Carlos Zambrano for a couple of weeks because of a ridiculous – if not justified – temper-tantrum).

With Vegas, the gambling gods can’t let you leave on a down note – you’d never come back.  So you always get a little victory to put a hop in your step as head to the airport.

I’ve got a few of these little victories, but my most recent sticks in my mind.  I had a great run on a craps table at the Imperial Palace of all places, playing for a half hour and rolling for a solid 20 minutes of that time, winning back over 200 dollars, and with me actually getting a round of applause from the table when I told them I absolutely had to leave.  The gods had to leave me with a smile on my face, and make me start counting the days until I’d get to go back again.

Vegas, baby, Vegas.

And don’t forget, Go, Cubs Go.

Catching Up with the Cubs

by: David K.

Anytime I have written anything about Carlos Zambrano, I always half-jokingly mention his craziness and habit of taking out his anger out on helpless Gatorade jugs.  Now you know why.

Big Z lost it Wednesday afternoon, throwing an impressive tantrum by bumping the home plate umpire then throwing HIM out of the game, whipping the ball into the outfield, slamming his glove on the ground, and then taking a bat to the new Gatorade dispenser in the Cubs dug-out like it was the copier in Office Space after disagreeing with a close play at the plate.  Cue up the Geto Boys, “Die Mother F@!&ers, Die Mother F@!&ers, Still!”

The thing that really irks me about another Los blow-up is that it came in the seventh inning of a tied game when the Cubs needed him to finish out his solid performance.  Way to have the team’s best interest in mind, Z.  You make Milton Bradley and Lindsey Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson look sane.  Now, you will likely see a hefty fine and multi-game suspension.  Just what the Cubs need.

A friend recently pointed out to me that since his power out-burst of hitting three home runs during a four-game span, Ryan Theriot, who only hit one longball in 2008, hit two more jacks, but just five singles in his next 17 games and saw his average dip fifty-points.  That is what happens when a 5-11, 175 pound shortstop who makes his living using the opposite field and getting on base for the big bats behind him suddenly hits a couple bombs and thinks he is a home run threat.  Thankfully, The Riot has gone back to his old ways in the Pirates’ series in which he was 7-11 with three doubles and ZERO home runs.

Now I know how Brewers’ fans felt last season whenever Eric Gagne toed the rubber in the ninth inning to try and close out a game.  I trust Kevin Gregg as much as I would trust Michael Jackson with my first born child.  Gregg is not quite in Brad Lidge territory (8.85 ERA, 2.07 WHIP), but he certainly doesn’t put Cubs fans at ease in the ninth inning, as he has allowed at least one base runner in all but one of his save opportunities.  What is it going to take for Carlos Marmol to get the closer job?  Maybe Gregg needs shoulder stiffness and a short stint on the DL.

By the way, this rule needs to change.  On May 16th against the Astros, Gregg came in to close things out in the ninth with the Cubs leading 4-0.  He proceeded to give up back-to-back solo home runs, two singles, and then a hit batsman.  Aaron Heilman then relieved Gregg with the bases loaded and gave-up a two-run single to tie the game at four.  So Gregg allowed four earned runs without recording a single out, but did not get credited with the blown save.  Heilman did.  That’s just not fair.

The Cubs are hurting worse than the Cavs NBA Title hopes.  Los comes off the disabled list just as Rich Harden is sidelined with a back strain.  (At least it’s not his shoulder this time.)  Aramis Ramirez has been on the DL since May 10th with a shoulder injury and still is not close to partaking in baseball activities.  Aaron Miles was just put on the shelf with a sore shoulder.  Ryan Freel left Wednesday’s game with a lingering hamstring injury and will likely be placed on the DL as well.  Bobby Scales was recently suffering from flu-like symptoms and sent down to Triple-A because the Cubs need healthy bodies on their roster, but could be called back up if Freel is indeed placed on the DL.  Derrek Lee has been banged up as well, most recently missing a few games due to the flu.  No wonder the Cubs are four games back in the Central and recently went on an eight-game skid.

Thankfully, they won their last two so I can un-quit them for the 298, 714th time in my Cub fandom.

Former College Football Team Captain was Openly Gay

By Paul M. Banks

Yesterday, the California supreme court voted 6-1 to uphold the ban on gay marriage voted in by Proposition 8 last November. The decision sparked massive protest demonstration all across the country. Within this political atmosphere I learned the story of Brian Sims, a former Defensive tackle and captain of the Bloomsburg University football team who came out to his team during his senior season. Sims’ story of his team succeeding both on the field and with the concept of tolerance is profiled on the website OutSports.com


“they never heard a single negative comment about Sims’ sexuality the rest of the year. Part of that was the timing. They were in the middle of a season for which they all had high hopes, and by the time most of the team found out about Sims, they had started talking about the playoffs. After starting the season 1-2, they ran off 11 straight wins and reached the 2000 Division II National Championship game. With the preparation and frenzy surrounding the team as they inched closer to the playoffs and then started winning playoff games, the sexuality of one of the team’s most respected players was the furthest from players’ concerns.”

As teammates found out, in the locker room no one moved away from Sims. No one shied away from him. His being gay became just more fodder for locker room teasing, like someone’s fat mom. Sims said he also became the dumping ground for every question his teammates had about gay people. “Straight guys tend to be the most curious about sex, in general,” Sims said. “My team asked me everything you can possibly ask a gay guy about sex, and in the crudest terms possible.”

I wasn’t even aware of Sims’ story or even that an alternative lifestyle oriented sports site existed until I received this email, perhaps the most enlightening electronic message I’ve received all month.

“Anyway, the story reminded me of your story from the Washington Post earlier this month about openly gay athletes in sports and Sims’ story seemed right on the mark.

Given what’s going on with gay marriage, school-yard bullying, and the lack of any good sporting news these days – this should be exactly the type of story you should follow up with: Good looking, all-American college jock comes out as America is increasingly becoming more tolerant!

All I know is that this guy is the only gay football captain to EVER come out of the closet and that is absolutely the kind of sports story that the Washington Post should be all over…plus he’s heard from athletes in like 30 states and over a dozen countries!

Dave Panchetti
Chicago, Ill.

Yes, I know Dave referred to the Washington Times as the Washington Post. I get that all the time, and get a kick out of it, and also correcting people can become tiresome. Getting back to Sims, his story is phenomenal and I plan to try and get him on for an interview soon, here’s another excerpt from the Out Sports feature:

“It also helped that Sims was good. Very good. He was the captain of the team and he was a first-team all-conference player that year. While his team got beaten badly by Delta State in the national championship game, 63-34, Sims said he recorded three sacks in the game.

“By the time it happened, I was the longest-running starter on the team,” Sims said. “I had a lot of success on the football field. And I think that bought me a certain amount of leeway with this group.”

Perhaps 30 years from now they’ll make sports movies about the struggle for Gay Rights in the vein of films made today like “The Express,” “Glory Road,” and “Remember the Titans.” These depict the intersection of sports and the civil rights movement. Sims would make a great subject for a biopic. As riveting a film as “Milk” (the recent Sean Penn movie about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected public official in America, who was assassinated along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone) was, the Sims’ movie would actually have a happy ending.

I hope the story of Brian Sims, and his teammates who openly accepted him, will inspire more athletes to come out. Beyond that, this example of Sims and the Bloomsburg University football team should send a message about the Gay rights movement to society at large in the same manner that Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers made an impact on the Civil Rights movement over 60 years ago.

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Fighting Irish?

By Melissa S. Wollering
It has been less than three months since non-academically affiliated fans of the Fighting Irish won our founder’s version of the TSB Douchebracket Regional Championship. This week, those insufferable fans are talking football as University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez talks with Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick about the possibility of a non-conference game between the two organizations.


During a 1070 AM radio interview here in Madison, Alvarez discussed a window between 2012 and 2015 when both organizations may consider scheduling non-conference game(s). He says Notre Dame’s AD Jack Swarbrick is considering removing Purdue from their annual schedule and playing them less frequently. That could open the door for an occasional Badger/Irish duel.
UW and Notre Dame have united over the pigskin 16 times throughout the schools’ histories but haven’t played each other since 1964. Nine of the 16 games were played in Madison, Wisconsin, four in South Bend, Indiana, two in Milwaukee and one in Chicago. The Fighting Irish have had the most ‘luck’, leading the series 8-6-2.
The last time Notre Dame won a national championship was in 1988, under Lou Holtz. Ironically, Barry Alvarez was an assistant on that staff.  Less than two years later, Barry was named head coach at UW thanks to the infamous Donna Shelala and Pat Richter.


The Irish’s football program has been fighting throughout coach Charlie Weis’ first four seasons. After a combined record of 19-6 over his first two seasons, Weis went just 10-15 over the last two seasons in South Bend.
Irish fans learned to luau in the 49-21 victory over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl last season.  That win snapped a string of nine consecutive bowl losses. Historically, Notre Dame has the second best winning percentage in NCAA history (.736) behind Michigan (.738).
Meantime, the Wisconsin Badgers are coming off of five consecutive bowl appearances, the last two of which have been losses. UW has made 20 bowl appearances since 1952 with an overall winning percentage hovering around 56% (604-462-53).
What would the match up mean for UW’s program? Probably more national television exposure on NBC, considering the Irish have an exclusive contract with the network. UW’s Athletic Department could take advantage of increased ticket sales, not that they need them. UW has one of the highest season ticket renewal rates, certainly in the Big 10, with a 96% renewal rate for the 2009-2010 season.
Currently, King Barry likes to mandate at least 7 home games at Camp Randall.  When considering Notre Dame, Barry says he wouldn’t mind hosting 8 home games per season, which certainly has the potential to impact season records as well as non-conference and conference match ups/schedules.
Barry also returned to the discussion of expanding the Big 10 conference to encompass twelve teams.  Notre Dame has been brought up in previous conversations about this before. Alvarez says he believes it should probably be an East Coast team, in order to take advantage of what Penn State has brought to the conference.  He believes, from a media perspective, Penn State truly put the Big 10 on the map and another East Coast addition would increase Big 10 visibility on a national level.


Lastly, the idea fuels the Irish fire.  If your school has fans with no legitimate connection to you, the likelihood they will travel to a city such as Madison is quite high.  The good news: Madisonians don’t rolling out the red carpet so you can spend your money, drink on State Street, stay in our hotels and fill Camp Randall.  The bad news: just remember that your green and gold will only be small specks in our sea of cardinal and white. Plus, we have every intention of re-nominating you for next year’s TSB Douchebracket Tournament.