Archives for August 2009

Rubio Staying in Spain

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by: David Kay

Timberwolves general manager David Kahn can finally stop racking up all those frequent flyer miles.  After months of trying to figure out a way for Ricky Rubio to play for Minnesota this season, the negotiations and trips overseas to Spain have gone for naught.  Monday night, Yahoo! Sports reported the Spanish sensation’s rights were traded from DKV Joventut to FC Barcelona, meaning Rubio will likely not be coming to the NBA until the summer of 2011 when his contract doesn’t require a buyout for him to head to the U.S.

Financially, Rubio just didn’t have the means to buy himself out of the $8.11 million remaining on his contract.  Kahn just ventured to Spain for a third time this summer to try and work out a way to lower the buyout, something that DKV Joventut was reportedly receptive to doing.  But in the end, a deal could not be resolved, thus putting off Rubio’s dream of playing in the NBA and adding to Kahn’s already dubious reputation as an NBA GM.rubiostern

This puts the finishing touches on what has been a disastrous off-season for the T-Wolves.  They ultimately turned Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith, Mark Madsen, and five draft picks into Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington, Darius Songaila, Oleksy Pecherov, Mark Blount, Damien Wilkins, Chucky Atkins, the possibility of Ricky Rubio playing for them in 2011, and a little bit of cap space for next off-season.  Even Grizzlies’ general manager Chris Wallace is laughing right now.

This leaves Minnesota with quite the conundrum.  Does Kahn sit on Rubio’s rights for the next two years, hoping that the 18-year playmaker will come to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to play for the T-Wolves, or does Kahn try to trade his rights to gain assets that will help the franchise’s re-building process right away?

Kahn obviously knew that there was a possibility that Rubio wouldn’t be playing in a Timberwolves uniform this season and has been quoted as saying that the team is willing to wait for Rubio.  Barring a ridiculous offer from another team, I cannot see his rights being traded.  Then again, this is David Kahn we’re talking about so anything is possible.

It is also no secret that Rubio has not been overly-excited about beginning his NBA career in Minnesota.  Playing two more years in Spain will only increase the likelihood of Rubio demanding a trade to a bigger market where he can rake in more cash off endorsements or threaten to remain overseas until Kahn finally gives in.

If there’s any positive that comes out of this situation, at least the Wolves will land one of the top picks in the 2010 NBA Draft and can hopefully add another young player to develop so when/if Rubio does call Minnesota home, the franchise will be ready to turn things around.

UFC 102: Nogueria, Couture put on a show

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By Chad Wuttke

Heavy leather and broken records were on tap at UFC 102 in Portland, Oregon.  Now that the Rose Garden roof is repaired, after being blown off by Saturday night’s main event, we can take a deep breath and look at what it means for some of these fighters.

In the main event, a highly motivated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira put his UFC 92 performance against Frank Mir behind him to beat fan favorite, Randy “The Natural” Couture, in convincing fashion.

Nogueira’s granite chin was on display as he took numerous stiff shots from Couture without even a flinch.  The 46 year old Couture looked great physically, but perhaps his chin is aging faster than his frame as Nogueira floored him in both the first and third rounds.

Nogueira’s legendary submission skills were also on display as we saw Couture forced to defend a rarely seen brabo choke, as well as an arm triangle.  The fight looked to be over about 6 or 7 different times, but to Couture’s credit, the wily veteran was able to survive.

Surviving wasn’t enough though for Couture.  Nogueira won what could be the fight of the year by unanimous decision and now has the Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar in his crosshairs.  Couture, who signed a new six-fight contract just before the fight, may be heading to the light heavyweight division, unless a bout with former Pride standout, Mirco Cro Cop intrigues him enough.

The night’s co-main event featured two fighters coming off losses to two standouts in the light heavyweight division.  Keith Jardine lost to top contender Rampage Jackson in the main event of UFC 96, while Thiago Silva was looking to rebound from a devastating knock out at the hands of current champion Lyoto Machida.

Silva would prove to be the better man on this night.  After withstanding a few early punching combinations, Silva caught Jardine with a left hook counter and finished him soon after on the ground.

It’s clear Thiago Sliva belongs near the top of the division and a possible fight with former champion Forrest Griffin could be on the horizon.   The inconsistent Jardine has now lost four of his last six fights and any dreams of a title shot seem almost unreachable at this point in a stacked division.mma_nogueira_300

In what was possibly the most compelling matchup of the night, Nate “The Great” Marquardt faced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Damian Maia.  Both fighters had title aspirations coming into the fight but only one would leave as a true contender.

In Maia’s previous five UFC fights, he rolled up five submission victories.  He wouldn’t get his sixth as Marquardt took all of Maia’s hype and planted it into the ground with one punch.  Maia’s chin hadn’t been tested and the well-rounded Marquardt showed you can’t be one-dimensional if you’re going to tread the waters of the middleweight division.

Marquardt now looks to be in line for a title show against Anderson Silva but Dan Henderson may have something to say about that.  A fight to determine Silva may be in their future.

Maia now must reinvent himself.  It’s clear his boxing and kickboxing skills must improve before he sees himself in title contention again.

In a very entertaining fight, 4-time wrestling All-American Jake Rosholt and heavy hitting Chris Leben waged war for… almost the entire three rounds.

Showing good patience and new standup skills Rosholt waited for the right moment and sunk in a fight-ending arm triangle choke midway through he third round.

Although he could still use some more seasoning, Rosholt proves he belongs in the UFC and may look to avenge his prior loss to Dan Miller.  Leben, who’s fought alcoholism for much of his life, may have some soul searching to do after reportedly falling off the wagon a few times leading up to the fight.

In the night’s opening bout, Brandon Vera provided us with another lackluster decision victory that continues his career, but doesn’t sit well in the eyes of most fans.

The talented fighter who once talked about winning titles in multiple weight classes looked to have his opponent Krzysztof Soszynski in trouble numerous times, but instead of moving in for the kill, stayed on the outside and grinded out a decision.  couture_mma_oly

UFC matchmaker Joe Silva may need to put Vera into matches with someone who will get in his face and push the action.  Someone like Stephon Bonner or even Thiago Silva may fit the bill.

The undercard was filled with plenty of fights that proved notable.   Todd Duffee set a new UFC record with a seven second knockout of Tim Hague.  Aaron Simpson looked to be on his way to defeating his opponent Ed Herman before Herman blew out his knee.  Gabriel Gonzaga took a step towards his return to title contention by defeating Chris Tuchscherer in convincing fashion, albeit after a low blow that clearly had an effect on Tuchscherer’s performance.

Great performances had by all, but the night belonged to two legends, Randy Couture and “Minotauro” Nogueira.  If you could ever look good in losing, Couture’s performance did just that. Nogueira proved his bout with staph infection is behind him. He now looks to figure out the man-beast that is Brock Lesnar, in what could be the superfight of the year!

Burning for a Chicago Fire Match

By Paul M. Banks

Until Chicago’s Blackhawks and Bulls get their respective seasons going again, there’s a void right now for local fans yearning to see some live professional action.

As usual, the Cubs are way out of playoff contention and their ticket prices remain ridiculously high. The Sox, with just slightly more reasonable entrance fees, are eliminated too.

(Don’t let those AL Central standings fool you, that division features 5 teams which could honestly struggle to win a AAA league. Even if the Sox actually learn how to field the ball, and “win” their division, the AL East Champions would crush them into a million little pieces come the playoffs anyway.) Yes, we all love our Bears and their flashy new QB, but you pretty much have to be a Federal bailout recipient to afford a halfway decent seat at one of their games.

Explore the Chicago Fire, out fair city’s MLS offering and your problem is solved. Start by reading the “Newbie’s Guide to the 2009 Chicago Fire,” and you’ll learn everything you need to know. The blog’s author is to soccer knowledge what the Fox network is to trashy reality television. As the guide states:

“Midfield seats are $50- compare that to $350 (face value) for 50-yard line seats for Bears- and if you take advantage of section8chicago.com’s $15 ticket deals, you can go to a whole summer’s worth of Fire games for less than the cost of a single bleacher ticket to Wrigley. Yes, a Cubs bleacher ticket gives you a front row view to the Unintentional Comedy Extravaganza {and psychiatric disorder case study, I might add} that is Milton Bradley…”

…but instead of finishing his thoughts I’ll switch to a lighter topic. Section 8 is one of the biggest parties you’ll find. They hit the pubs before the game (match) together and commute on the same bus to beautiful Toyota Park and back. Once there, they wave enormous flags, sing, chant, stand, cheer and make merry better than the rowdiest of college basketball student sections. It’s like what you see in Europe- minus the hooliganism, broken bottles over the head, and rioting.
Seriously, this summer (or whatever you call it, calendar says summer even though the thermometer says October) you should see that Fire games rock, and right now the Toyota Park experience is more fun than watching two overpaid, underachieving baseball teams meaninglessly play out the string. There’s tailgating, bean bags, totally boss Mexican food and their coach Denis Hamlett even says fun things like “we pissed points away” (at least he did on this night, a 1-0 loss to hated rival D.C. United) at their post game press conferences. Oh, and did I mention that the Fire are within striking distance of the best record in their league? They do this thing called winning games too. For tickets, click here

Orange Juice (Williams) and Champaign

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The Juice Williams Interview/Profile Part 1

By Paul M. Banks

On May 10, 2005, Urban dictionary made “juice” the Urban Word of the Day and defined it as such “Respect and credibility on the street. A.K.A. Sauce “I can’t be seen with them – they don’t have juice.”

Sounds like another word for power, connections, a big time reputation- something a star quarterback at a large, Big Ten University would have. But University of Illinois quarterback Isaiah John “the kids call him Juice” Williams didn’t get his name on the southside of Chicago’s mean streets, or because he has juice from his teammates. (and to play the most high profile position in all of sports, having juice is a must) Williams was dubbed “Juice” by his grandmother because of his large size as a child. “I was kind of big … you know, big and juicy, I guess.” Williams nearly died at birth due to his large size of 13 pounds and 8 ounces. Today, he’s large within the Illinois and college football record book.

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He enters his senior season with 6,405 career passing yards, fifth on the Illinois all-time list. He ranks 14th on the Illinois all-time rushing list and is the first non-running back in Illini history to top the 2,000 yard career rushing mark. Juice is third on the Illinois career total offense list with 8,455 yards.

His 475 pass completions and 909 pass attempts both rank fifth on the all-time list, he’s also thrown 44 career touchdown passes, third in school history. Oh, and as you might have heard 1000 times before, he attended the same school as former Illinois and Chicago Bears legend Dick Butkus. At Chicago Vocational High, Juice was an honor student.

Former Illini QB Kurt Kittner holds a lot of the records that Juice is poised to break, and as the team’s current radio color analyst, he remains close to the program. “We’ve had a few conversations. Kurt is a great guy, he’s not too worried about me breaking the records, if I’m able to, he’s fine with it. A compliment to the type of mentor he’s been to me, he loves Illini football,” Juice said about his interactions with Kittner.

In the bigger picture, Juice realizes that these records are just numbers. Instead he wants his legacy to be something else.kurtkittner

“I want people to say that Juice was one of the best guys to ever come through here, as far as leadership, being the captain, being the playmaker, being the role model, and being a great human being, not only just around campus but around the community…helping out youngsters, being a positive influence in other people’s lives…on the field, hopefully I can say that I will be the all-time leader in passing, passing yards, rushing yards by a QB, those things would be huge.  In order to get to that point, you have to do things as a team…fulfill team goals and the individual goals will come after that.”

Williams knows that the most important thing for him to do as a quarterback is be the “field general,” to be almost James Bondlike- staying calm and composed when dire situations arise. “Keep your head…a majority of quarterbacks know that when things start going on around them, people start talking, things start to tank. It’s just the quarterback mentality to let everything go and just stay focused and go from there, once you start paying attention to everything negative going on around you, you kind of lose sight of what you’re trying to do, so I just block everything out and just go,” Williams stated.

Of course, Williams has not had this healthy attitude during his entire Illini career. At Big Ten Media Day I asked him if he ever had read some criticism of himself online and gotten offended, thinking “hey, now that’s just not true.”

“I used to do it all the time my freshman year and part of my sophomore year, but you got to get over it, if you look at it too much, you read the blogs, the newspapers, all the negative criticism it takes a toll on you…even outside of football when you’re walking around, I’ve kind of let it go and learned from it,” Juice responded.

The flow of negative press is even more constant in today’s world of Web 2.0 and social media. Juice discussed not being online with Facebook, Twitter etc. too much. “You have to in order to be happy with your life, you got to get away from that,” Isaiah John Williams said.juice2willimas

Last year, the team slipped back a big step, going from a 9-4 BCS season to a lackluster 5-7, could the added media attention and pressure have had something to do with it? Perhaps the bright lights and constant TV cameras of the Big Ten Network’s Illinois Football: the Journey have had something to do with it? “I don’t think it hurt us at all. I think that it gave us an opportunity to showcase what goes on behind the scenes within our team.  It gave guys an opportunity to go out there and represent this University well. I think it was very beneficial to the program. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the job done on Saturdays, but I don’t think having the cameras around had anything to do with it. I keep all the copies…of course the season didn’t go the way we wanted to, but you’ve gotta have all the videos for when you get older so you can show your kids, and your grandkids and your friends.  Especially with my daughter cause I can say, ‘Hey, you were on TV too.’ You have to have that stuff around,” Juice answered.

That was 2008. In 2009 Juice will get his final opportunities at collegiate glory. “We have to do our job. You have to count on the next man to do their job, and the next guy and the next guy, and you have to do yours, and all the parts to the machine really have to come together and operate. Once you do that you know, that’s when things start happening. You start getting the rushing yards, you start getting the passing yards, but most importantly, you get the W’s.”

Despite their awful record last season, Illinois was not a bad team. Almost all their losses were by narrow margins and came at the hands of teams that eventually played in the postseason. “Anybody who plays this sport is going to lose by just one or two points a few times and you can get very upset at that. But you have to just keep your cool and learn from it,” Williams said.

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Tune in tomorrow, where I’ll post part two of this exclusive. It will feature Juice thoughts on working out with Philadelphia Eagles QB and Chicago native Donovan McNabb, his thoughts about going on to the next level, and much more.

The REAL Most Wonderful Day of The Year

Stagg lost 16-9 to Proviso West last unfortch

By Paul Schmidt

I have a friend who, every year for the last 8 or 9 years, watches Varsity Blues today.  More precisely, yesterday, I guess.

Why?

No, not the Ali Larter whip cream bikini. At least, not entirely because of that.

Because he is a sports reporter, and he covers high school football, and it’s his ritual before the first high school football game he covers every year.

Having been a part of in depth high school coverage while working at a smaller paper, I can safely say that the anticipation of this day is, well, hard really to describe. There’s “Van Tour,” where we went to every high school in our coverage area, and spent an hour with each team, chatting up players and coaches and getting photos of everyone.

There’s putting together the mammoth football preview, which an epic merging of both journalism and design, all wrapped up into one pullout section.

There’s the game-by-game preview before week one, and then…the big day.  The great day.  The first games.

Covering football at the high school level isn’t like doing it in college or the pros.  From a coverage standpoint, at the higher levels, you take some notes, but mainly, you’re watching the game and trying to come up with interesting img00037-20090828-211711questions for post-game press conferences and interviews.  And also, don’t forget, eating the delicious (hopefully) food spread out for you.

Not in high school though.

First of all, one should never, EVER cover a high school football game from the stands or the press box.  The only way to experience the game is from the sidelines — a much less sanitized and much more real experience than you get at the higher levels.  You’re there with the players, the officials, and you can literally see and hear everything. You can interact with the teams and the trainers, and if you’re smart about it the coaches too.

Anyone who has ever covered sporting events HAS to cover at least one high school football game, if for no other reason to be on the sidelines to do it — it’s just a different experience.

So tonight (last night, whatever) was opening night.  I don’t spend my whole life at the newspaper anymore, but I still string games for them when they need me, and not for the spectacular amount of money it gives me. It’s certainly for the experience of being there.staggchargers

I spent three hours on the road attempting to get out to West Chicago High School to see Wheaton Academy (which, it should be mentioned, isn’t in Wheaton and doesn’t have a football field at their school) take on the Momence Redskins.  This wasn’t a battle of two classical state powers, just two fairly evenly matched teams going at it.

Week one games are always strange, and you never know what to expect, mainly because these are just kids out there, and they’ve only been practicing for three weeks.  I definitely got my money’s worth tonight, with a three hour game, 62 passes for almost 600 yards, 6 turnovers, 21 penalties for 210 yards, a low, strange fog that made the field

Players getting lost in the gloamin'...

Players getting lost in the gloamin'...

look like it was in Haddonfield straight out of the movie Halloween and two hits that were so huge my bones are still rattling just from being in the vicinity of them.

Wheaton came away as winners, 28-18, with one play standing out above them all. Momence’s quarterback dropped back to throw, and was absolutely crushed by a blindside blitz.  He was in his throwing motion as he got hit, and lost the ball.  It looked as though his arm was going forward, and 21 players on the field reacted as though the play was whistled dead.

Wheaton’s Louis Bianco, a senior defensive lineman, did not, and wisely scooped up the ball and ran it in for the game’s final score, securing the victory for his team.

It’s those kind of plays that make high school football great, where there’s no instant replay, even though maybe there should be, and you have one player alert enough to change the momentum of the game for good.

The Momence loss meant that they wasted two spectacular offensive performances from their aforementioned QB, junior Seth Stevenson (19-29 for 322 yards and 2 touchdowns, and great leadership on the sidelines, lecturing two different players after unnecessary unsportsmanlike conduct penalties), and wide receiver David Clayton (5 catches for 151 yards and those two touchdowns).

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Hopefully over the course of the season I can bring you a couple more moments like this, snippets of either greatness or humility, sportsmanship or competitiveness, that comes with these great young competitors on the gridiron, if for no other reason than to bring you just a little of the excitement I get from watching these kids play — so much so that it’s almost 2:30 a.m. and I’m still awake.

It truly is the greatest day of the year.

Now if I could find my copy of Varsity Blues….

Badger depth chart finalized…for now

Here's your new Wisconsin starting quarterback, Scott Tolzien!!

Here's your new Wisconsin starting quarterback, Scott Tolzien!!

By Jake McCormick

Who the hell is Scott Tolzien?

I’m sure more than a few Badger fans are asking that right now, considering the junior has just been named the starter for the season opener against Northern Illinois. Someone had to win the battle for the starting quarterback position, and Tolzien has apparently stood out to the Wisconsin coaching staff. Bret Bielema released his starting lineup Thursday, and there were some interesting choices at other positions as well.

Tolzien is closer to John Stocco and Jim Sorgi in make-up than Brooks Bollinger and Mike Samuel. He is a pocket quarterback, possesses the most knowledge about the Badger playbook (run-run-pass is so hard, isn’t it?), has the best arm, and won’t make the mistakes of a freshman.

I don’t see the decision to start Tolzien as a bad move for the Badgers, as it allows freshman Curt Phillips time to develop into a better passer and Tolzien has another year of eligibility left. A more overlooked positive to this choice is the potential for a platoon ala Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. OK, they obviously won’t make that sort of impact, but a combination of the strong-armed Tolzien and fleet footed Phillips could throw a much-needed wrinkle into a normally boring offense.

Zack BrownBielema also has named junior Zack Brown as the starting running back over highly-touted sophomore John Clay. This is the most interesting choice by far. Clay is the only Badger that is recognized nationally as a soon-to-be stud, but there are a few reasons Brown might be a better choice at this juncture. He probably understands the offense much more than Clay, and it’s possible Clay’s ankle problem has returned from the grave. Clay will see his fair share of carries in an offense that led the Big Ten in rushing yards a year ago. Personally I think Clay should be starting, but it’s not like the starters are set in stone for the entire season.

At the wide receiver position, sophomore Nick Toon and junior Isaac Anderson give Tolzien big targets with good hands. Putting Gilreath in the slot position will keep teams guessing when he goes in motion, and that’s a necessity with an inexperienced quarterback.

The defensive tackle positions have been a big question mark, and there’s only so many Rudy’s that can play at a given time. But senior Jeff Stehle has made enough of an impact in training camp to convincingly win one of the starting spots. If he can be a leader with O’Brien Schofield on the line, the defense might surprise some people.

If you read the Badger defensive preview I wrote about two weeks ago, I mentioned that the Badger linebackers were very deep and there might be some surprises. Sure enough, Blake Sorenson has been pushed out of the strong side and into a competition for the middle spot with Culmer St. Jean. The guy that beat him out? Freshman Mike Taylor, who missed a lot of camp with a neck injury suffered in high school, still managed to lock down the strong side.

Niles Brinkley led the 2008 Badgers in interceptions, but pulled an Al Harris and got beat deep a lot. He has lost his starting job to sophomore Devin Smith, who has played at a consistent level throughout training camp. I’ll sacrifice interceptions for fewer points against any day.

The Badgers aren’t expected to make a run at the Big Ten title, but this year will be interesting enough, not Garrett Grahamincluding the possibility of a 2010 coaching search if they fall flat. My guess would be Barry Alvarez would pull a Dick Cheney by conducting a “search,” deciding no one is good enough, and re-appointing himself to the position.
Besides that, this team is extremely young and will basically be learning on the fly. There are only seven seniors in the first and second team offense and defense combined, with two on offense and five on defense. Likewise, there are 12 first or second year players on offense and 14 on defense. So if Wisconsin starts losing, we can use the excuse that the team is for the most part still learning the college game. Yay!

Season prediction: 8-4 (4-4 in the Big Ten)
The Badgers have to go 3-0 against NIU, Fresno State, and Wofford if they are expecting to even be competitive when Michigan State comes to Madison. That’s just the start of a tough stretch of travel to Minnesota, where they will play in a real football stadium for the first time since Tainted Love was a hit (I’ll save you’re wikipedia search and tell you it was 1981), and against No. 6-ranked Ohio State. No. 22-ranked Iowa comes to town the next week to continue the tough run. After that, the rest of the schedule looks like a cakewalk, although Wisconsin always finds a way to make tough games really close and “easy” games really bad. To quote Philip Seymour Hoffman quoting a Zen master in Charlie Wilson’s War: “We’ll see.”

Possible NFC North Reality Shows

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By the TSB Staff

Since the NFC North in 2009 seems to be the ultimate reality series in professional sports right now. I asked my staff to  analogize the players and coaches in the division with some of the tv show “characters” currently dotting the reality show landscape.

JAKE MCCORMICK

This is an easy one. Despite my vocal criticisms of VH1 and their mind-numbing switch from “Behind the Music” type programming to mindless trapclap like “Brooke Knows Best” marathons, I must admit I watch a lot of their reality dating shows. I love the creatures that come out of their holes in the ground to proclaim their love for aging rock/rap stars. But the best analogy I can give involves the Vikings, Brett Favre, and Daisy of Love.

Daisy is (obviously) looking for love, but was shunned from her “true love” Bret Michaels in “Rock of Love 2,” and finished second to a mature girl with less baggage and much more potential. She didn’t get along with everyone on the show, and was very shady when talking about her living situations (she lived with her “ex” boyfriend). She was the Brett Favre to Bret Michaels (or Ted Thompson’s) Aaron Rodgers (Winner Ambre Lake).

Fast forward to the fourth episode of “Daisy of Love.” She has really taken a liking to a guy named London, who is a flashy rock star-type, but is also a big flake and whines for no apparent reason other than he isn’t getting his way. As a result, he leaves before elimination, leaving Daisy bawling in her room and unable to give out her Rock Star chains. This obviously upsets the house, since none of the other guys liked London because he was a cocky but waffling douche to her. As the show goes on, we get hints that Daisy is still hurt by London’s premature departure, and her chemistry isn’t as strong with the other guys. So, with four guys remaining in the competition, Daisy’s sidekick Riki reaches out to London and persuades him to come back and resolve the issues between him and Daisy.

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Obviously the rest of the guys hate his guts, and he knows it all too well. But he gradually makes it to the finale episode, and when faced with a decision between Flex, a guy that is much better for her and different than her usual drama-loving boyfriends, and London, who is like every other immature guy she has dated, Daisy says the following: “I need Flex, but I want London.” Thus, she chooses the guy everyone loved to hate, and they all learn to live with it even though everyone involved with the show (including Riki) thinks she made a mistake. I’ll leave you to fill in who is who between the Vikings organization, Favre, and the players. This analogy makes too much sense to me.
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SOXMAN

Cheaters staring Brett Favre.

When Green Packer Packer fans suspect their long-time boyfriend is cheating on them with another team, our cameras are there when the confrontation takes place.  Will Brett score with another team?  Don’t miss another great season on the NFC.

Flavor of Lovie.

Lovie Smith is in search of a wide receiver for his bachelor quarterback.  Will Lovie’s idea of ball romance agree with Jay’s desire to command an offense?  The balls will fly and players will run all season long in the most offensive show to come out of Chicago in years.

Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood.

Starring Aaron Rogers who teaches people it’s ok to be second despite the speedy deliveries of passes to Greg Jennings.  In the end, you will go to the land of make believe to see what life would have been like if Brett Favre was never born.

The Girls Next Door.

Starring the Detroit Lions offensive line.  Only Mathew Stafford will not be pillow fighting cuties.  He’ll be participating in the “Amazing Race,” trying to escape linemen out for his head.cedricbensonjersye

PAUL M. BANKS

“Elimidate” starring Brian Urlacher

He’s a man known to reap the “strange” out there in the Chicago nightlife; on a level even more intense than Kyle Farnsworth or Mark Grace. Everyone has an Urlacher story. Some even have a paternity suit.

“The Shark Tank” starring Matthew Stafford

ABC’s Sunday night series is probably the only reality series I actually like these days, but this show isn’t about aspiring entrepreneurs pitching panels of venture capitalists, it’s Stafford being put into open water surrounded by blood and chum (his 0-16 Lions teammates) as the sharks, opposing defenses circle around.

“Blind Date” starring Brett Favre

I always loved the little drawings, graphics and thought bubbles that comprise each episode of this series. My dream job is to be the person who gets to write the funny observations and insults of those who participate on this game show. Actually my dream job is any job where I get to rip on people. But what if John Madden who has the biggest man-crush in the history on man-crushes on Favre, also came out of retirement just to cover a few games featuring the man who complete him? He’d no doubt manipulate the telecast to draw hearts and write amorous sayings all over the screen, and somehow the show ends with Madden and Favre in a hot tub…ugh….

Most Overlooked NFC North Storylines

staffordgrinding

By the TSB Staff

The NFC North will undoubtedly be a reality series this fall with the Brett Favre-Minnesota Vikings story likely to be “the lead” all year in most NFL content-producing mediums. #1 overall draft pick Matt Stafford helping rebuild the Detroit Lions, Jay Cutler bringing the Chicago Bears solid quarterback play for the first time since the Industrial Revolution will be huge as well.  But what about under-the-radar NFC North storylines? What interesting developments have been under-reported?

SAM SVOBODA

The Bears’ loss of safety Mike Brown.

Even though he’s had injury problems, I was shocked at how little I heard about the Bears letting him go. I thought maybe it was because I was in California at the time, but it turned out my brother (who’s been in Chicago the whole year) didn’t even know about it until seeing that Brown signed with the Chiefs in June. Yes, Brown has lost a step with his injuries and age, but he played 15 games last year and proved that he can still make plays. More importantly, he brought leadership and experience- Brian Urlacher has always gotten more press, but I really believe that Brown was the heart and soul of the Bears’ defense.

Perhaps the main reason that I think Brown’s departure is a big story though, is because of the safeties that the Bears kept. If the Bears had some great, established safeties then I would have had an easier time understanding letting Brown go. But the team’s current list of safeties reads like this: Kevin Payne, Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Josh Bullocks, Al Afalava. I really hope some of the above guys can prove themselves as consistent NFL starters, but if the Bears’ safeties are repeatedly beaten this season, you have to wonder about the decision to let Brown go.


JAKE MCCORMICK

What’s missing? The answer is anything about the Green Bay Packers. As we’ve seen from even just the past week, ESPN will report every time Brett Favre involuntarily farts when he gets under center for the Vikings. It’s like a politician, where everyone is giving him advice on how to act, what he needs to do to gain his teammates trust, and the best way to overcome the doubts.

The Lions are a story because they are a team with a new image, the biggest being the new badass Lion on the helmet. The worst team in the league from the previous year always gets obligatory press coverage because it’s interesting to see how they change their approach on Sundays.

The Bears have a mini-Favre in Jay Cutler, who is a great talent but already a prima donna. And he doesn’t even have a winning record as a starter. How he responds to moving from a team with good receivers, a banged up running game, and a terrible defense to a team with a good running back, bad receivers, and an aging defense will be something to watch.bearstrainingcamp2

That leaves us with the Packers, and the biggest storyline that anyone can pick up will be the transition to the 3-4 and how Aaron Rodgers responds as a second-year starter. But honestly, name one story about the Packers that has made any sort of noise on ESPN or anywhere outside of Wisconsin. And no, the team’s reaction to Favre’s return doesn’t count. Green Bay has the talent and depth to be much better than last year’s 6-10 record indicates, and although Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy build the team through the draft, the fact that they only kept one coach from 2008 on the defensive side of the ball this season says something about the team’s sense of urgency. The whole Packer organization is an underreported and under-the-radar story, which is funny considering it is one of the top three most popular teams around the world. For proof, I offer this: My girlfriend spent a semester in Spain and her host brothers knew nothing about football, but they all had Green Bay Packer bobble-heads.

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The coverage of the Favre signing was to the sports world what the death of Michael Jackson was to the pop culture masses.

I’m actually more curious to see if rookie WR Percy Harvin can unseat Devin Hester as the next American Idol of the return game.  The kid can fly and actually might end up being a decent wide receiver as well.  Did you hear that #23?

What ever happened to Devin Hester’s return game anyway?  He is the Rueben Studdard of the NFL- minus about 200 lbs.bearstrainingcamp1

Other NFC North storylines- “My Tight End” sounds like the name of an alternative lifestyle reality show, but actually it’s a question.  With the exception of “the Packers,” (again, minds out of the gutter), all North division QBs have a new tight end.  Who will be the first TE to establish that “till free agency do we part” chemistry with their ball hurler?  Cutler and Olsen, who have already established chemistry on the Chicago nightclub scene?  Stafford and Pettigrew?  Both are NFL “first timers,” who only have each other in a world of potential pass rushers?  Or old man Favre and Visanthe Shiancoe?  Given Favre’s love of men who can go long, anything is possible.


PAUL SCHMIDT

I know, the Jay Cutler talk and the love affair with him is ridiculous right now, and it’s getting just as tiresome as the Brett Favre story.  Well…maybe not that bad…but it’s getting old.  The thing people need to be talking about with the Bears is what happens if they are bad?  I mean, there’s a lot of speculation about the receivers, and maybe it’s founded, but it would seem to me that there isn’t enough speculation about the defense.
What happens if Tommy Harris isn’t ok?  What happens if Brian Urlacher continues to slide as he ages? What happens if Lance Briggs’ ego continues to grow and it gets in the way of his performance?  What happens if Peanut Tillman isn’t ok, and doesn’t heal properly?  What happens if Danieal Manning doesn’t get better?  What if Nathan “The Interceptor” Vasher sucks again this season?  What if no one steps up in the secondary?  What if the defensive line STILL can’t get pressure on an opposing QB this season?vikingsheadshadow

See?  There’s a ton of questions.  The defense isn’t a sure thing to be great.  The offense BETTER score a lot of points, because the defense just might be giving up quite a few…

The point is, if the Bears aren’t a playoff team, and end up .500 or worse, is Lovie Smith’s job on the line?  Jerry Angelo’s? Both have really put their necks on the line with the Cutler deal yet not bringing in any top WR (like Anquan Boldin). Shouldn’t they be on the hot seat just because of that?

SHAYMUS MCLAUGHLIN

In my opinion, it has to be Aaron Rodgers coming into his own as an elite QB in the NFL. He put up pretty ridiculous stats last year, especially for a first year starter (4,038 yards, 28 TDs, 13 INTs, and a 63.6% completion percentage). He managed to do it with the whole Brett Favre thing weighing down on him, which makes the feat even more impressive. While the mainstream media will be keeping an eye on Favre’s follies in Minnesota, Cutler’s conquest of Soldier Field, and Stafford’s starting gig in the Motor City, Aaron Rodgers will be quietly be amassing elite numbers for the green and gold at Lambeau Field.

Big Ten QB Power Rankings

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By Paul M. Banks

The Big Ten has a historical reputation for being a “black and blue” type conference like the old NFC Central in the NFL. Woody Hayes and his “3 yards and a cloud of dust” comes to mind. But today, it’s all about the spread-option, and having a quarterback who can run the ball almost as well, or better than he can throw it. The Big Ten’s best are the guys who can beat with you with their legs in addition to beating you with their arm.

1. Ohio State- Terrelle Pryor.
He’s the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and will only get better. The only question remaining is, why wasn’t he one of the three players selected by THEEEEEE Ohio State University to attend Media Day in Chicago? Instead OSU brought one mediocre player, one guy that might not start, and another who’s scout team level in talent.

2. Illinois- Juice Williams and Penn State- Darryl Clark
It really is a toss-up between these two mobile QBs. Both have led their team to the Rose Bowl, both got smoked in that Rose Bowl, and both have developed towards the back-end of their collegiate career. Juice is a better runner and will put up bigger numbers this fall, but Clark is a better decision maker and commits less mistakes.

4. Minnesota- Adam Weber
Like the first three, he’s mobile and he’s got a gun. But does WR supreme Eric Decker make him look better than he really is? Guess we will find out next year when Decks is gone.

5. Northwestern Mike Kafkajuice-williams-arrelious-benn-440
He’s known as “the guy who broke that QB rushing record” to most, as he really hasn’t done much else outside of… the record shattering 217 yards he scrambled for in a season-defining win at Minnesota last fall. But he has potential, and now with C.J. Bacher’s departure, he has a chance to be the man and carry this team.

6. Iowa- Ricky Stanzi
Has high potential to rise above this spot; playing with the luxury of his stellar defense and the great blocking in front of him will help him get there.

7. Michigan State- Kirk Cousins/Keith Nichol
Cousins looked ok when he got some playing time in the Citrus Bowl last year (if the credit card company that bought the rights to that game wants publicity, they can give me a cut, until then it’s the Citrus Bowl to me!). Nichol is yet another qb transfer who bails on his program when he finds himself lower on the depth chart. But when you realize that he had to contend with Sam Bradford at Oklahoma, can you blame him? They’ll name their starter in a couple days.

8. Indiana- Ben Chappell
He’s got a good arm, but he’s no Antwaan Randle El. He’s not even in the same class as Kellen Lewis.

9. Purdue- Joey Elliot
He’s the like the Chester Frazier of Big Ten football- already focused on coaching once his college career ends. Last year, the Joe Tiller era ended. This year ends the era of Purdue QBs putting up good passing numbers and having draft potential.

10. Michigan ???
Familiar with the term “hot mess”? I don’t really know where to begin, expect by asking them to start over with whoever is the highest rated youngster at the position in their program.

11. Wisconsin ???
The Badgers deserve this spot simply because of what happened today with Bret Bielema’s “depth chart” release, an extreme let-down that said nothing. Junior Scott Tolzien and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips were listed as co-starters ahead of senior Dustin Sherer, who started the final seven games in 2008. They won’t bother telling us who’s winning the position battle. But we can figure out that Sherer is JUST AWFUL.

Answering Cubs Questions

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By Paul Schmidt and David Kay

Two of The Sports Bank’s most prominent smart asses also happen to be Cubs fans (Lucky for the Cubs).  We polled our own to get some burning questions about the underachieving Cubbies and Paul and David were kind enough to mix in a few nuggets of insight within their jokes.

Since being moved out of the lead off spot, Alfonso Soriano has started hitting and driving in runs. Other players like Kosuke Fukudome have started hitting too, which makes me think that Soriano is filling the catalyst role further down in the order. It’s possible the old Soriano is back, but given his success away from the top of the order, where is the best place to slot him?

(PS) The bench. After lighting the world on fire after going to the 6-hole, he has been mired in what I believe is now a 4-for-50 slump. Any time anyone throws him a breaking pitch he either swings on his tip-toes to get at it because it’s so far outside or he nearly breaks his back from the bat missing everything and hitting it so hard. Given his complete lack of caring in the field, there’s no reason to keep him in the lineup.

(DK) The best place to slot him is in the American League so no fan base has to suffer through the circus that is Soriano trying to catch fly balls, misplaying balls in the corner, or overthrowing his cut-off guys.

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While the Cub offense has been overwhelmingly under whelming this year, the starting pitching has kept the team in the NL Central race. Now with the offense seemingly coming on despite not being 100 percent, the starters have taken blows with injuries to Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. The pitching and offense have played well at times, but rarely together. Will the pitching and offense ever click as one before it’s too late this year?

(DK) Don’t forget about Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden spending time on the DL as well this season. It is already too late by the way, so it doesn’t matter if the offense and pitching ever click this season. It’s just too damn late.

(PS) A simple ‘no’ is all you’ll get out of me.

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For you I know this year is about nothing but success in October. Anything less than a world series is a failure, so how do you get yourself through the reg seasons’s final stretch? Seriously how do proverbially “wake up every morning till the postseason?

(PS) I drink heavily. I also watch a lot of NCIS reruns. The only thing that this team has going for it right now is that it’s still easy to watch – It’s like a train wreck, you can’t look away.

(DK) I already quit the Cubs two weeks ago. It’s refreshing and like lifting a massive weight off my shoulders. How do I get through the rest of the MLB season? I start studying for my fantasy football draft, researching the 2009-2010 college basketball season, and watch re-runs of $100,000 Pyramid of the Game Show Network.

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Even if the Cubs make the playoffs, there’s no way they do any damage with their current batch of relievers “closing” out games, right?

(DK) Well it only took four and a half months of suffering through Kevin Gregg sucking to remove him from the closer role. Let’s be honest, Carlos Marmol has been just as rocky as he’s struggled to find his command (though he has been steadier as of late.) By the way, just stop saying IF the Cubs make the playoffs. It’s not going to happen. Just like Brett Favre will never play for the Vikings…

(PS) I hated the Kevin Gregg signing from day 1. I told everyone I knew that they would end up hating him sooner rather than later. This is one of those situations where I really, really don’t like being right. Personally, I think the only guy in the bullpen who has earned a shot at the closer’s spot is Angel Guzman, or perhaps John Grabow. But we’re going to have Marmol, for better or worse.
How do you think the Cubs ownership situation affected the roster this season, if at all?

(DK) Trading for Jake Peavy is really the only potential deal that was affected by the Cubs ownership. They still have a massive payroll and the fact is the team never could put it all together at once whether it was injuries or guys just plain sucking (i.e. Milton Bradley, Geovany Soto.) The roster was built to win and just didn’t get the job done.

(PS) I don’t think it made a lick of difference. Jake Peavy would have just gotten hurt anyway, just like all of the rest of the pitchers….

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Which Cubs are part of the long term solution, who needs to go away?

(DK) I honestly don’t have the energy to answer this question. But let’s just say I like Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot, and Jake Fox on this roster. I’m not sold on anybody else.

(PS) I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think that the only guys you keep are Geovany Soto, Rich Harden, Carlos Marmol and John Grabow. Maybe Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzellany (a personal man-crush of mine). Everyone else can go and is a varying degree of trade bait. I’d also like to say that I’m in the camp, albeit a small one, of people who would like to see Milton Bradley back. High OBP guys are the kind of people you can build your lineup around, and they aren’t REAL common. He also ALWAYS hustles and gives 110 percent on the field, which is more than I can say for at least one of the Cubs’ outfielders…

The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober: Lopez Royalties & Princely Barter

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By Melissa S. Wollering

A highly-underrated acquisition, written off by some, Felipe Lopez has been putting #4 pop back into the bat. As in Paul Molitor, not Brett Favre; you football-convert-Brewers-abandoning-season-is-over-I’m-onto-bearded-forest-dweller-Aaron Rodgers fans. Unfortunately, Lopez didn’t solve any pitching problems which have taken the Milwaukee Brewers out of postseason contention.  So when should we use Prince for all he’s worth? I mean, worth on the market? We’re onto 2010’s hunt.

It’s worth noting, Ken Macha called Lopez a “hitting machine” this week. Now rewind to Rickie Weeks.  Weeks had finally created momentum at the leadoff spot before his season-ending wrist injury May 17th. Until Lopez arrived on the scene, the Brewers couldn’t set runners in-motion for Braun/Fielder plate appearances. Now Lopez is serving a sterling silver decanter of leadoff juice in anticipation of the two young hitters. It’s almost a nightly ritual.

Could this once short-term rental be worth a Melvin investment? Felipe is a free agent after this season, and depending on the strength of a Weeks’ return, he may be worth a look. It took Weeks years to start a season the way he did in 2009, but even at his best, Wickie numbers do not equal those of Lopez.

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Lopez has a .363 batting average and .419 on-base percentage that’s taken Milwaukee’s watery Beer Cheese soup and made it consistently thicker and more productive. In Chart One of two in this week’s “Chart Magnificence,” we break down runs per game between Weeks, Lopez and the production drought which occurred when neither was contributing.

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Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean the Milwaukee Brewers’ record is any better with the guy. The Crew has gone 14-20 (at the time of posting) since Lopez has arrived in the land of Miller. During the 55 week period in which there was no Weeks OR Lopez, the team was 24-31. Crunch that and you get nearly the same percentage points. Jeepers, creepers Soxman. (Note all Batman references have been slightly altered and do reflect TSB’s preference and bias towards this superior superhero.)

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As of Thursday, the Brewers had moved ahead of the Dodgers and were 3rd in the NL in runs scored. Meaning, the offense has not been the problem anyway.

No, the Brewers fall from grace rests squarely on the shoulders of villains called starting pitchers. The trade deadline was a circus in which Doug Melvin was left hanging from a trapeze. Veterans Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan were shot out of the DL canon of injuries. Manny Parra walked on hot coals long enough to get his own show in AAA.  And Yovani Gallardo just couldn’t live up to the title of SuperAce CC Sabathia or Ben Sheets.

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The circus was so scary, Bill Castro was dismissed as pitching ringleader and Ken Macha is now walking the high wire. Eight pitchers have started for the Crew this season and just one, Yovani, has managed to keep his ERA under 4.95. The rotation has the worst cumulative ERA in the NL. Only the Orioles are worse in all the majors. From a 2008 third-best mark of 3.86 to a cellar-chilling 5.23…oh what difference a year makes.

Also, some of our pitchers, namely Carlos Vanillawafer and Mark DiFelice, are being robbed of strikes.  Check out Jeff’s Lookout Landing.  It breaks down the ten pitchers in the majors with the fewest strikes called.

Even worse, take a look at it by team.  The Brewers get fewer strikes called than any other TEAM in MLB, which certainly doesn’t help our already dismal ability to pitch. In other words, we’re getting screwed!

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Moving along, here’s my royal pain-in-the-arse question of week.  Some of you will not be happy with me, however: when is it worth it to deal Prince? Dave at Fan Graphs has some great stats to back the argument up. If you could put a price tag on his .300 batting average, his gong show of home runs and his walk total which is already matching 2008’s in 150 fewer plate appearances, what would that price be? And would it be enough to put the Brewers in Ken’s Hunt for a 2010 Machtober?

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We’re only ponying up $7.5 million this year and $10.5 next until 2011 brings dreaded free agency with Scott Boras playing the lead role of Lucifer. A record-breaking contract  aroma is obviously wafting through some organization’s front office.


Look at it this way. Without Fielder, Milwaukee would still have Mat Gamel (could move to 1B), Rickie Weeks (could be asked to play a position other than 2B, although that could mean OF), Alcides Escobar, JJ Hardy, Casey McGehee and (if we could snag) Felipe Lopez to work the infield. I would also support giving Craigy Counsell another 1-year deal, and for heaven’s sake, give him more than $1M this time!  He’s earned it ten-fold.


Trading a HR Derby, All-Star player after a disappointing season is not easy to market to the Milwaukee fan base, but the money he could rake in to replace our starting pitching rotation could make the difference in a 2010 bid for the playoffs.


Chris Capuano was once slated to return as early as late May of 2009, but ran into injury complications. Other than a Capuano return, Milwaukee has no one ready to move up the pitching ranks.  The once “one year away” Jeremy Jeffress has bigger grass issues than the stuff he plays on.


Fielder has been the man the Brewers organization has been building playoff runs around. “He’s only with us two more years.  That means we’ve got two years to get there or we may never get there.”


I would argue it may be worth flipping that philosophy by using Prince to get to the playoffs in an unconventional way. Deal him for all he’s worth to invest in a starting rotation that can move you in that direction.  If this 2009 season is proving anything, it’s that having Braun & Fielder isn’t enough to reach Machtober.

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Next Week: My take on what the Brewers should do with Hoffman, Cameron, Kendall, Looper, Weathers, Catalanotto and Riviera…

The Sports Bank, Soxman in Chicago Triathlon

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By Paul M. Banks

You know what’s really annoying? When people (and there have been quite a few of these) approach me and ask me to do a feature on whatever 5K/10K/Marathon/Triathlon they’re doing. Like the general sports fan would give a shiznit about your attention whoring? Some of them run/bike etc. to raise money for some very worthy causes, and that’s quite admirable. But these requests also come from people who’ve known me for years and  have never posted a comment (nor shown any indication at all that they’ve ever read anything on this site) since it went live in January 2007. So for those people, you’re S.O.L. generate your own publicity. I’ll do something for you if/when you can do something for me.

But races I participate in (along with Bruce Wayne-Parker, the man behind the Soxman mask, THIS SUNDAY IN THE CHICAGO TRIATHLON) are a different story.

We have our own media platform, a website ranked in the top 98 percentile for traffic according to Alexa.com, so we can plug away. Is this annoying? Well it’s kind of like going to see a great studio band that’s TERRIBLE in concert, like the Smashing Pumpkins. Instead of singing, Billy Corgan will ramble on for 20-30 minutes about Lord knows what, and in the middle of his delusional musings he’ll say, “but we don’t do what we’re supposed to, and you guys like us for that.” So concludes this brief announcement post.

The Chicago Triathlon is Sunday. They’ll be live music, beer and a party afterwards. Maybe even punch and pie. One thing’s for sure, I’ll return to do a recap of the event and any news-worthy or otherwise interesting anecdotes that occur between Bruce Wayne-Parker and I.