Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Giant has Awoke But We Can Still Believe in Miracles

Well I said the best the US would do is bronze and Canada would win gold. I still might be right, as much as I like to see the US win their third gold medal (1960 & 1980) in Olympic Hockey history they couldn't have had an easier path cleared to the medal round.

Two wins against a feisty but less talented Switzerland squad, a snoozer over Norway and in a game against Canada that they were desperately outplayed but won 5-3, they could have named Martin Brodeur their number one star. Face it, as much as I loved rubbing my Canadian hockey goofball friends noses in the perverbial doggie doo doo of a loss, I doo doo realize they were dominated by Team Canada and Alex Auld probably would have been able to hang on to a 3-2 victory for the home squad.

But now they will get tested but not too badly. Finland has been solid, and play a sound defensive game by not making a lot of mistakes in their own zone. They also have thrived at transitioning on turnovers forced at their defensive line. Out of the big six or seven teams in the tournament the United States victory over Canada has given them an opportunity to go for gold.

Thats because of the swiss cheese effort by the greatest goalie of all time, thus leaving the US clear of Sweden, Russia, and Canada up until the finals. The problem with the undeserved win in one of the most exhausting and exciting hockey games that I have in my memory, is that Canada knew they dominated the youngsters from the south and now have awaken with more anger and fury than Nancy Grace on a hangover.

The 5-3 victory may have done something for moral in the states but it has fired up the Canadians so, that they have routed Germany and medal favorite Russia by a combined 15-5. The most impressive component of the Canadians at this point is there work ethic, like when Rick Nash blew by the Russian forwards to join the rush and push the home squad ahead 3-0 before anyone blinked. Even captain Scott Niedermeyer played better after a slow start to the Olympics helping shutdown the Russians top line.

When your facing a team as forward stacked as the Russians, headed by their Rasputin like line (You know, the line that won't go away) of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexandre Semin you better have some guys that are ready to work all night and that's just what the Canadians got. Jonathan Toews, Rick Nash, and Mike Richards shutdown the big line and did it efficiently and early by capitalizing on turnovers and forcing the Big Red Machines into bad areas on the ice. It was a resounding win for Team Canada announcing they were back in gold medal contention.

It is now the US and Finland, and Canada and the upstart Slovaks to now contend for the medals, which one will claim gold? Well, I am pretty sure the overwhelming favorite would be the hometown favorite and when they claim it on Sunday in Vancouver, the chants of U-S-A, U-S-A, may have just been loud enough to have awaken the sleeping giant.

I may have had Canada for gold and the US for Bronze but I also had Latvia in the quarterfinals and Russia the silver medalist, so I'll just continue to believe in miracles and cheer for Ryan Miller, too bad it has to end! U-S-A, U-S-A!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sports Agenda Is Full Today

I love sports and I don't care who knows. Trouble is, this time of year, you can go weeks without finding a sports day with 4 events that would be the "main event" on most any other day.

But, today is Wednesday, February 24. Check it. 4 Top Tier Events to occupy your time on this beautiful day!

1:45 - Champions League Round of 16: Chelsea at Inter, Fox Soccer Channel

Why Should you care? Mourinho against Chelsea? How about this tid-bit :

He is a bitter and twisted man — and a successful one.

Saturday was the 130th consecutive time a team coached by Mourinho — from Porto to Chelsea to Inter — has remained unbeaten at home in league play. It is a run built on stubbornness and good organization, yet scarred by an attitude that is inimical to the game.

Mourinho’s mind games included prolonging the halftime interval by almost five minutes, leaving the opponents cold on the pitch and the match officials jogging nervously in the tunnel. Mourinho challenged officialdom by demonstrating, not for the first time, that his men will come out to play when it suits him.

We have seen all this before. It is unlikely to be coincidence that this display came as Inter was preparing to face its next visitor to the San Siro, Chelsea — the team that he built and the club that fired him — in the Champions League on Wednesday.

So, arguably the best team in the world today, Chelsea, which also just fired Jose a few years back, now tries to snap the 130-match home unbeaten mark he has?

Yes, Please.

2:00 - USA vs Switzerland, Olympic Quarterfinal, NBC 5

6:30 - Russia vs Canada, Olympic Quarterfinal, CNBC

Clearly you know what is at stake now - anyone still alive in this most wonderful of hockey tournaments is 3 wins from the Gold.

But, wow, Canada vs Russia in the Final 8? This was many people's Gold Medal game, and now one of them will be out of the tournament altogether by the end of the day. Surely, this will be amazing. And with Canada on short rest, and already not totally sure of themselves, the prospect of dealing with OV, Datsyuk, Malkin, Kovalchuk, and the rest of the Russian gang will test all sorts of Canadian resolve.

Meanwhile, the USA must tangle with Jonas Hiller again. You would like to think that this is a win, but remember that the Swiss held up well against the US already, and then took the Canadians to a shootout.

8:00 - Lakers at Mavericks, ESPN, Ch 21

Finally, the 4 event Wednesday is capped off with the marquee battle locally of the Mavs testing their new squad against the heavyweight champion of the world, who beat Memphis last night. Kobe returned from being gone for 5 games and scored 32, with the Game Winning 3 .

Let's show em what we got.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Did the Mavs Finally Fix It?

I have really enjoyed watching the Mavericks in the last week and a half, because after many rearrangements of the deck chairs on the Titanic, the Mavs finally made some very broad-based changes to the fabric of the their team in the last few months that have modified the way this team can do business.

Mavericks basketball in the Dirk era has always been very good. He is a talent, and the front office has found ways to put people around him that compliment his game as best as they could. But, it only worked to a point.

To review the Mavericks from late last season, allow me to take you back to a blog entry from last March after a bad road loss against the Lakers -

Lost In Los Angeles - March 16, 2009 :

The Lakers are the Mavericks nemesis these days, and if yesterday is any indication, it isn’t because they have some magic mojo against the Mavs, it is simply because they are significantly better all over the floor. I enjoyed the ABC TV guys debating it, and I thought Jeff Van Gundy was spot on about this team when he suggested that this team isn’t inconsistent. “They just aren’t that good”.

Very simple.

Very obvious.

Now, you can look at Dirk and suggest that the best player on the team, and one of the top dozen players in the NBA is the problem – but that remains a silly past-time if you ask me.

Isn’t the biggest problem with the Mavs the following:

At any given time yesterday, the Lakers had 3 mis-matches with which to attack yesterday – AND, at the same time, the Mavs had only about 2 scorers on the floor.

That is right. They have bad matchups on offense and defense. That is a rare double.


Here is how the Mavs opened the game defensively:

Dirk guards Odom
Dampier guards Gasol
Barea on Fisher
Kidd on Ariza
Wright on Kobe

As you can see, the most obvious mis-match is Damp trying to guard Gasol, but there is nobody else he could even consider guarding. I have no idea why he was on the floor to begin with, but both halves, Carlisle thought he would try it. Then, Barea gets posted up when Fisher decides it is time. Kidd leaves Ariza to help on Kobe and Ariza starts nailing shots.

Then, Barea and Dampier must sit down, and when James Singleton or Brandon Bass and Jet Terry enter the game, now, Dirk tries to guard Gasol (not very well) and Bass tries to cover Odom.

This doesn’t even mention Kobe. Kobe can destroy pretty much anyone in the league, and although Antoine Wright looks like he is doing pretty well, Kobe gets a quiet 28-8-5.


Here is an equally horrid part of the game. The Mavs have, at all times, at least 2 to 3 guys on the floor who are pretty much worthless on offense. Seriously. Barea, Wright, Singleton, Dampier, and Bass are 5 of the top 8 options right now on this team, and none of them can create any of their own offense. Barea and Wright can spot up and shoot 3’s. Singleton, Bass, and Dampier can occasionally hit an open 15-footer and put back a rebound.

So that leaves only 3 guys who can get you anything on offense above very basic levels of production. And Kidd cannot shoot unless he is left wide open off the pass. As far as creating things, he is great – but to whom shall he create this offense?

Dirk and Jet. Night after night. Dirk and Jet.

Let me ask you a question; Don’t you think the opposition knows this? Don’t you think the Lakers have some idea about this? They stick Gasol on Dirk and then help the whole night with Kobe and friends. Jet still gets one-on-one coverage, because he does most of his scoring from 25 feet. And yesterday, he did it very well.

That leaves Dirk to a) be the only scorer inside the 3 point line, and b) the key to the Lakers defensive efforts. Phil Jackson will do everything he can to not let #41 beat them.

You knew there were big issues again when the Mavs shot 48% in the 1st Quarter, held Kobe to 0 points, and were down 9!

The Mavs are short. Even with Josh Howard back, they are short a player or two.
And that isn’t going to change until the Mavs front office changes it.

That was what I felt last March - and obviously that did not change against Denver in the playoffs. The major beefs were simple:

1) - It was still a team largely based on jump shots. They did not get easy points.
2) - It was a team with 1-dimensional players. At any given time you had either an "offensive" line-up or a "defensive" line-up. You could not find 5 guys who could do both.
3) - It was a team that was not overly tough or difficult to play against.

So, how do you change to fabric of an entire team? You could do what many fans do, which is to blame Dirk for not being Kobe and Kidd for getting old, or you could try to methodically and with some level of stealth offer an opportunistic move here and there to slowly (but quickly - it was only May, 2009, right?)

First, the Shawn Marion move allowed you to put a guy on the floor that is both athletic (surely the most athletic of anyone on the squad at the time) and defensive minded in a frame that is comfortable on both ends of the court. Not near the offensive force that he once might have been, but you are not afraid of passing him the ball in the late stages of a key game. Unlike Josh Howard, he doesn't mind the ball when it matters.

Then, the bold strike on All-Star weekend, where you accomplished so much with one move that many of us thought it was just a dream.

1) - You went and got a 2-way wing player who can defend, can score, is tough, is composed, and is ready to rumble in Caron Butler.

2) - You also grabbed a guy who may be the best big man that Dirk has ever played with in Brendan Haywood - and I am pretty comfortable saying that after only 5 games. He is active. He is vertical. He has hands. He seems to have a brain. He seems to have the stomach for the fight. I think I am in love.

3) - You subtracted a guy in Josh Howard who had to go for so many reasons. He need a fresh start, but no more than the Mavs did. His mentality merged with Erick Dampier to show the NBA that the Mavs just don't have the bottle. They were the same tired team that spit the bit in 2006, 2007, and 2008. There was no reason to believe that it was going to continue to happen. Josh, who once had so much promise, now was the poster boy for what had gone wrong.

All in one move!

So now, the Mavs may not have what it takes to move past Denver or Los Angeles - we don't know the answer to that. But, we do know that they did everything in their power to change things.

1) - They can now get points in the paint. They can take the ball to the rim, they can get easy put backs with Haywood and Marion leaping in the paint, and they have guys who can finish Jason Kidd opportunities with more than 19-footers.

2) - They can run the same 5 guys on both ends of the court without dramatic mismatch issues at crunch time - Dirk, Kidd, Butler, Haywood, and Marion/Terry make up a 5-man unit that makes sense. They can all hold their own at both ends of the court. There is nobody with a pork chop hanging around their neck waiting to be taking advantage of by the opponent.

3) - And most importantly, it looks like a team that is not enjoyable to play against. I don't think these new additions fear a street fight. I don't think they will say "excuse me" when bumping into you, and no, I don't think they will let Kenyon Martin nail Dirk and just watch quietly.

They did it. Without changing their cap future, trading Dirk, or "blowing it up", they have actually followed a plan and figured out a massive over-haul on the fly.

Will it work? I don't know, but for once, I feel like I am not watching the same episode.

And that is all anyone can ask.

Monday, February 22, 2010

USA 5, Canada 3 - Medal Round is Next

Back after a short lay-off, let's get back to this blogging.

On Sunday Night, we were all treated to the reason that the NHL goes through the trouble to shut down the league and participate in the Olympics. Yes, it annoys us that they hide it on MSNBC. Yes, it is further maddening that for most of us, it wasn't even in High Definition. But, in the end, we were treated to that night that we all imagine when the premise of Canada vs USA is suggested. Or, the USSR vs the Czech Republic. Or, Finland vs Sweden. If the NHL is going to participate, and the players are going to do their part - which means they are going to play all out as if that is all they care about.

And it is happening. The caliber of hockey on Sunday is the type of day that finally makes all of the frustrating nonsense about the way the game is marketed seem like details that do not fully matter. The hockey is so intense, and so wonderful to behold, that I almost do not mind looking for the game on MSNBC and watching it in standard definition. This is playoff hockey - but more talented. There is never a chance to breathe because every time a Canadian player hops over the wall to join the game, he is another world class scoring threat. In the NHL, you target 5 or 6 guys - but in the Olympics, you better just go ahead and target them all.

Anyway, on Sunday night, I settled in to watch the USA play Canada for what seems like countless occasions in my life. It seems, regardless of setting, that when the USA plays Canada in hockey that the gap is just too much to overcome, and yet, I tune in everytime bracing for the worst and hoping for the best.

And yes, it is particularly weird knowing that Brenden Morrow plays for Canada, where as the closest thing we have to Dallas affiliation with Team USA would have to be Jamie Langenbrunner, our long-time buddy on those special teams back in the day. But, we have learned to deal with it. Our enemies are our friends, and our friends are our enemies. It is odd to cheer for a bunch of division rivals to beat Brenden and his mates, but put them in USA and Canada sweaters, and suddenly, it is easy for me to take sides.

Last night took me back to the World Cup of 1996, when a classic USA team of Modano, Hull, Roenick, LeClair, Richter, and friends took down Canada in a best of 3 final that made my heart swell - and yet nobody I talked to seemed to even know the tournament was going on. But, that was the only other time that our best beat their best. Until last night.

Now, before I get into the details that impressed me about the USA's victory, I do want to concede a few small points to our Canadian friends. 1) Canada lost in 2002 to Belarus at this stage of the tournament, but then when it came down to single elimination in the next stage, Canada went right through the field and won the gold. And 2) If these two teams play in a few days, the smart money should still be on Canada. This win is nice, but if you could choose when it would happen, you clearly want it to happen next Sunday - not yesterday.

Having said that, I will tell you what I told friends all weekend; After that performance against the Swiss on Thursday night, I fully expected the Canadians to light up the US like a Christmas tree on Sunday and run them out of the arena. I figured hearing them being doubted for 48 hours would have been enough to bring Canada to its finest level - now I am wondering if we are seeing their finest level. And what is worse? So are they. They are now seriously wondering how good they can be with this group of players at this time. Fascinating stuff.

And now, a few additional quick hits:

* And so we solve the amazing riddle of hockey yet again; Goaltending solves everything. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres, was so wonderful in his play that the USA always looked like they were in a fine position in the game. He is so composed, and so in control, and so big, that you always feel good with him back there. Based on the email, it appears he is still a very well kept secret in Dallas Stars' fandom, but Miller is exceptional. This is no fluke. His quality is such that he can steal the gold mostly by himself if he keeps this up.

* If you follow hockey even a little, you know that San Jose is one of the picks to get out of the West in the playoffs this year. Much of this relies on the fact that they have some of the most absurd elite-level talent as anyone in the league. In fact, they have the "HTMLine" featuring the superstars Heatley, Thornton, and Marleau on Team Canada. They can even put Dan Boyle in the back and have 4 Sharks on at the same time. It is a ton of talent and they have the added bonus of chemistry and continuity when the rest of the squad is not familiar with eachother. But, there is also the problem of the Joe Thornton reputation that has followed him for much of his career about doing big things at big moments. Rising to the occasion is not his forte, and although I find him an amazing player, I will also concede that last night when Crosby is battling tooth and nail and making plays, Thornton's line was a lot less effective.

* Brian Burke and Ron Wilson did what we needed them to do. The USA Hockey program has been served well by those names we all love so much, but at some point they needed to make a clean break. They needed to say goodbye to the legendary names and move on. There is a metaphor in here for the Dallas Stars or any sports organization when you weigh those who have fought so hard for you over the years versus those who can serve you well down the road. If you let the fans decide, we will always want to keep the old guys around because we think that A) they have earned it and B) we are comfortable with them. But, give Burke credit for doing it. He picked a largely anonymous, new team, and when the team was picked, we freaked out a bit because our names of comfort were not on there. But that team of new Americans is built for speed and for collisions. They are talented and young and an entire different style from what were used to. Most of all, they seem relentless and ready to scratch and claw to the death. I do like this team. Very scrappy, and very difficult to play against.

* Realizing that it has nothing to do with this game, You owe it to yourself to see Ovechkin's huge hit on Jagr . OV is so wonderful for hockey.

* From what I understand, the last 3 games that the USA is to play will be on NBC 5 in HD. The Quarterfinal will have the Top Seeded US against the winner of Belarus - Switzerland on Wednesday. The hockey is going to be awesome this week. I still am not sure I think the USA can get to the finals, but I am also starting to ask, Why Not?

Sunday, February 14, 2010


With the XXI Olympic Winter Games underway in Vancouver, it’s just a short time until the main event drops the puck on the most anticipated hockey tournament in North America since 2002.

That year was special in not only the fact it was on home soil in Salt Lake City, Utah but because it was the last time the great Herb Brooks would coach on the world’s stage. The United States lost to Team Canada in a classic gold medal battle that Joe Sakic and Mario Lemieux led to a 5-2 victory.


On Tuesday at high noon this year’s installment of the Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament will get underway as the United States will take on Switzerland, followed by the hometown and odds on favorites Team Canada playing "host" to Norway.

The 30 game, 12 team tournament, will consist of three pools of four that will play round robin for seeds 1-12. The top four teams, three pool winners and one wild card will have a bye into the quarterfinal round. The eight remaining teams will play for the final four spots of the quarterfinal round making up the eight team field competing for the Olympic Medals. It will conclude on February 28th with the Gold Medal Game at 12:15.

This will be the first time that the Olympics will be played on an NHL sized rink (200 x 85 ft) rather than an Olympic sized sheet (200 x 98.5 ft). Apparently it was suppose to save millions on renovations and will allow more people to be in the building.

It will be the first time the two referee system will be used in international play. The NHL adopted the two referees and two linesmen system in 1998. NCAA Hockey recently started this format.

The NHL goaltenders won't have to deal with worrying about getting called for delay of game if they want to play the puck in the Olympics. International rules don't mandate an area behind the goal where net minders can only handle the puck. It will be a free for all for the likes of Marty Brodeur. Too bad Marty wasn't playing in these Olympics.


Predicted records in parenthesis ex. USA (2-1)

In Group A

Canada (3-0)
United States (2-1)
Switzerland (1-2)
Norway (0-3)

Group B

Russia (3-0)
Czech Republic (1-2)
Latvia (1-2)
Slovakia (1-2)

Group C

Sweden (3-0)
Finland (2-1)
Belarus (0-3)
Germany (1-2)


Brenden Morrow

He will be asked to play mostly third probably fourth line checking roll. They won't look for him to score but be an energy player and use his grit against softer teams in the tourney.


Jere Lehtinen

He’s been with this group before and has won medals in the past including silver in the 2006 Turin games. He'll be in a leadership roll on the team and with his work ethic and mind for the game; the Finns could be in the mix again. This year they have Mikka Kipprasouff as well to go with the team that finished 2nd in '06.


Loui Eriksson

The second leading goal scorer on the Stars will add depth to the returning gold medalists. He could be on the wing of the top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin when the Swedes drop the puck on their gold medal defense. No gold medal winning team has repeated since the Soviet Union won in 1984 and in Calgary in 1988.


Karlis Skrastins

The Captain of the Latvian squad. Heart, work ethic, toughness, that's naming a few qualities that make up one of the guys that keeps the Dallas Stars in the playoff hunt. If the Latvian squad plays half as hard as Skrastins and in a one game scenario, I feel a big upset coming in the Olympics.


Prelim Upset Warning: Switzerland over the US??

I am not going to go as far and say as I am going to predict it, BUT...the opening game for the US could be tough against a Swiss team that is playing their last tournament for their national team coach of 13 years Ralph Krueger. Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks will start in goal and this season has been stellar on a subpar Ducks squad going 25-17 with a .917 save pct.

The United States played down to their competition in the 2006 preliminary round tying Latvia 3-3. All I am saying is that the US better not take it for granted otherwise a hot goalie and a motivated group could pull the upset!

Team Latvia over the Czechs

In the prelim round I think this is the one that could go down. If the Czechs arent careful they could run into a Latvian team that has the most team chemistry. 13 players on their roster play together in the KHL with Dynamo Riga. Dynamo is in the race for the KHL playoffs and at the time of this blog they sat 6 points up in the race. You can't mess with team chemistry and an aging Czech team might get caught off gurad by this "TEAM".


With not enough talent and just too much world class talent available to the other countries the first four to fall will be Switzerland, Norway, Germany, and Belarus.


That leaves the final eight for quarterfinal play

8. Latvia





Canada over Sweden
Russia over USA

Canada Gold
Russia Silver
USA Bronze
Sweden 4th


I think the US gets by anybody but Russia or Canada. This year is not theirs. Brian Burke, David Poile and co. went with youth over experience. Fortunately for the US, their best player I believe for them in this tournament will be their goalie Ryan Miller. It won't be enough. They aren’t explosive enough to keep up with Russia, and aren't deep and experienced enough to match Team Canada.

They will be poised for Olympic Gold their next run, as they have 17 players under the age of 30, and that includes 13 that won’t be 30 during the 2014 Winter Games. They could surprise someone in the next two weeks but it will all be on Ryan Miller. Another guy to keep an eye on in this tourney is Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone. He may be underrated in this tournament. With the absence of physical play an the grit and toughness he posses around the net, he could create him and his linemates space. They also have some explosive offensive talent in Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, and Patick Kane, not to mention long gone are the days of "The Hotel Incident" of the 1998 Nagano Games. The leadership of this version of Team USA starts with Jaime Langenbrunner the team captain, and key players Paul Stastny, Dustin Brown, and Brian Rafalski.

The best the US does is win Bronze

Loaded and maybe the most anticipated and pressure packed event in Canada period! GM Steve Yzerman had his hands full when he took this position but if it ends up like 2002 he'll be as happy as Wayne Gretzky was when Canada took the gold in Salt Lake.

The team will be captained by Scott Niedermeyer and the assistants will be Chris Pronger, Sidney Crosby, and Jerome Iginla. The team has so much depth and balance, on the back end Duncan Keith who runs the Chicago Blackhawks high powered offense will be joined by the rocket shot of Shea Weber, and skill and puck moving skills of Dan Boyle.

The forwards showcase Sid the Kid of the Pens and two time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley, and Joe Thorton of San Jose. So much offense to name but when you can add grit, depth, and specialists like Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron for his two-way play and propensity for winning key draws it rounds out the best overall team in the tournament.

You notice I didn't mention goaltending? I didn't have to because Canada has the best goalie of all time, three time Stanley Cup Champion and 2002 Olympic Gold Medalist Martin Brodeur.

This team also boasts six NHL Captains. If your wondering, Brenden Morrow DAL, Jerome Iginla CAL, Sidney Crosby PIT, Scott Niedermeyer NJD, Mike Richards PHI, and Joe Thorton SJ.

The only thing I can see bringing this team down is that they have too many stars and too much pressure that overrides there sheer talent. Thats not a bad negative to have.

Canada wins Gold over Russia: because they are deeper defensively and possibly as explosive.

Enjoy the tourney. Hope I am wrong on the predictions! USA USA USA

Thursday, February 11, 2010

800 Pound Gorilla Anyone?

So Tonight is the first game since the big trade went down involving Kari (CAR-ee) Lehtonen. The 26 year old goaltender that was moved to the Stars for top prospect defenseman Ivan Vishnevsky and a fourth round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

What I find amusing is that now that the Stars have three goalies, and in theory two number one's What will the mentality be of Marty Turco as his contract season winds down? And trust me I know that Joe Niewenduyk had a great conversation with Marty and expects Turcky to handle it like a pro...But how in the world do you expect this guy to play when he gave his entire NHL career to this organization and now the writing is in big bold letters in front of his stall??
For Marty, I hope that the Stars can find him a place to go, at some point everybody needs a change of scenery and sometimes that's what it takes to get your mojo back. He gave a lot to Dallas an although he didn't win a title, he was a great goaltender. Don't forget he did win in college, he helped his Michigan Wolverines win the 1996 National Championsip. So he didn't win a cup in Dallas, but doesn't it take a team to do that? How may cups has Roberto Luongo won? Just asking.
My point being is now with the 800 pound gorilla here and sitting in the room on a team needing a big win to stay in the playoff hunt tonight in Calgary. Tell me how is his mental state going to be cooperating with him this evening? About as much as the cruel world of sports cooperates with the ending of a great athletes era.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Stars Trade Review: Kari Lehtonen

And so the Joe Nieuwendyk era continues with a very interesting move. So interesting, in fact, that lost in this shuffle was a very legitimate road result in Chicago last night that could have easily been 2 desperately needed points. At least they were able to put a point in the bank. Something about seeing the Blackhawks across the ice brings out pretty nice efforts from our Dallas Stars. They need to finish this portion of the schedule (At Calgary, At Phoenix) with a few more points, and then they can have a March with substance when the Olympics are completed.

But, we aren't here to talk about a Tuesday game in February. We are here to discuss what the acquisition of Kari Lethonen means to the long term health of the Dallas Stars organization.

Last night, as you know by now, Lethonen was snagged by the Stars from Atlanta at the rather sizeable sum of the Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 4th round pick.

OK, where to begin....Let me just grab a topic and go with it:

* How good is Lehtonen? Well, he is one of only 3 goalies to be picked in the Top 3 spots of the draft in the last decade (Rick Dipietro, Marc-Andre Fleury) so we know he has the pedigree. He is 26, and he has talent to the moon and back. He is big, quick, and has scouts drooling with what he could accomplish at this level. He has also played for a team that has never really built much of a defense around him, and has been a guy who has not been overly healthy for his career. The guys on the NHL network this morning were even discussing his work ethic or the idea that he may not "want it" as bad as a guy at this level must. Also, he has not played all year because of back surgery. I don't know about you, but when I hear a goalie and back surgery, it is very similar to a pitcher with elbow issues. So, that gives me pause, too.

* Now some disclosure: I watch all Stars games. Then, on non-Stars nights, I gravitate to certain teams in either the division or teams I am interested in through my decades of loving hockey. They generally are: Edmonton, Calgary, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Washington, and the NY Rangers. I don't know why, but if the Stars are not playing, and there are no big Pacific Division games, I find my way to those teams on Center Ice, preferably playing eachother. The reason I tell you this is that if there are teams I DO go out of my way to watch, there must also be teams that I almost NEVER watch. Enter, the Atlanta Thrashers. I hate to say it, but there is a reasonable chance if the Stars are not playing them that I don't see them play 3 times a year. So with that in mind, I just want to be honest - I have almost no original opinion about Kari Lehtonen. Everything I feel is from information people I trust have written or said. Just some disclosure for you.

* On the health issues: I have to believe since it is Nieuwy's first major player move, he has done his due diligence on both the back issues and the overall skills/upside of the player that will go a long way in forging his performance record early on. There is much at stake, and people around Joe are quick to tell you how deliberate he is about almost everything he does. Maybe not Bob Gainey deliberate, but surely a guy who looks at every angle before he does something like this.

* On the three goalie thing: I suggest that what they are saying is smart business. The word is that they are not intent on moving a goalie here before March 3 and just covering themselves for the summer. But, I don't believe you trade your debated #1 prospect for an insurance policy. I believe they think Lehtonen is the #1 around here for the next several years, and are just saying the right things to keep their bargaining power high in the Turco marketplace. We know money is tight, so to bring in a player of a decent salary ($3M), there is a chance that money must now go out before the deadline. Also, carrying 3 goalies is not ideal for a team trying to make a playoff run. In my opinion, and I have no inside scoop here, the management team is going to sit back, watch the Olympics, and in the event of a contender suffering an Olympic injury between the pipes, the Stars will be working the phones. I don't believe there is any chance of a Turco extension now. Again, just my opinion. I appreciate Marty as much as the next guy, but the writing seems there for all to see.

* On losing Ivan: I think it is easy to say this kid is the "next Zubov", but there is only one #56. He is a talented kid who will spend years in the league, but is he special? Or is he a guy? Again, Les Jackson/Brett Hull/Doug Armstrong may have felt one way on Vishnevskiy, but perhaps what they saw was based on his development and realizing his immense skating talent and becoming a true elite offensive defenseman. And, since they are no longer pulling the trigger around here, it is up to the new regime to figure if they should ride it out or flip him now we the league still thinks he can be that. Joe has looked and looked and perhaps decided that for the right offer, Ivan can be had as bait. You have to give to get in this league, but if you think he is really Zubie II, you don't trade him for a goalie with back issues. So, we can assume he didn't feel that way. Now, we hold our breath and hope he is right.

* Overall, I have no problem with this move - assuming that the Stars obviously feel like this kid is ready to break out between the pipes. They want to turn the page and they think Kari is the guy to help them get there. If things go right, he could still be your goalie in 7 years. Now it is time to help him by solidifying the blueline in front of him. But, it sure looks like the Stars are turning the page and building with a newer, younger group.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Ask Sports Sturm: NFL Franchise Rankings, 9.0

The 9th annual NFL Franchise Rankings are ready for your viewing pleasure. We have tabulated the latest figures after the 2009 Playoffs and Super Bowl 44. This year, the biggest gain was the gigantic leap of the New Orleans Saints, which jumped from #31 to #23 all-time with 1 big year. Also, the Colts jumped into the Top 10, by passing the Vikings, Rams, and Giants in '09.

The Top 9 teams remain unchanged, as the Cowboys increased their small lead over the Steelers to 6 points, 108-102. Then, there is a giant gap before #3 San Francisco at 85 points, Oakland at 77, and then another large gap to #5 New England.

At the very bottom remains the Houston Texans who have never made the playoffs - therefore they have 0 points. But, since they are an expansion team, we should point out that the worst teams in the franchise rankings are actually the Lions with 11 points, and the Cardinals with 10.

So, what are these rankings all about? Here is what I wrote last year:

To recap, a few years ago, a good strong listener asked me to rank the franchises from #32 to #1 based on their accomplishments from Super Bowl I to present.

So I did. I wanted it to be objective, not subjective. I wanted it to be a formula and you would just enter the numbers and it would spit out the rankings with no favoritism or prejudice. We have been doing this since 2001. Since then, it has been imitated a time or two , but I don’t mind. It is pretty obvious idea for any sports nerd to come up with.

Here is how it works. Each Franchise gets 1 point for each season it makes the playoffs. Then, if it reaches the Conference Championship Game it gets a total of 3 points. If it makes the Super Bowl it gets 5, and if it wins the Super Bowl it wins the maximum total of points in a given year of 11. It used to be 10 for the Super Bowl, but I have adjusted it this year because I didn’t like the idea that 2 Super Bowl losses equaled a Super Bowl win. So, Now 11 points for a win and 5 for a loss in the Super Bowl.

I have been asked why no points are given for wins in the Wildcard round, but I decided that would not make sense with the idea that the playoffs have grown over the years and there is no way to equalize a smaller field to a larger one. Also, a Wildcard win is not that big a deal anymore with 6 teams in the playoffs, so unless you reach the Conference Title game, no additional points beyond the 1 for making the post-season.

I also have been asked how come I don’t go by average points per season (since many teams have joined the league since Super Bowl 1. My answer is simple: I don’t want to penalize teams who have been in the league all of the years. If you go by average points per year rather than total points, it is possible that the Baltimore Ravens would have been #1 if they had won the Super Bowl this year. No chance I would believe that premise, given that they didn’t exist prior to 1996. But, if a team has been established since the season of Super Bowl 1 (1966), it is notated.
Just add up the points for all the years, and that is the entire formula.

Otherwise, I break ties based on the team with more Super Bowl wins, then Super Bowl losses, then Championship Game wins, etc. There are no ties. I will settle it somehow.

I have decided to add the category this year in version 9.0 that many have requested - average pts per year - so that we may determine results based on years in the league. 24 of the 32 teams have been here the entire span of the 44 years of Super Bowl football, but this metric will help put the other 8 teams: Saints '67, Bengals '68, Seahawks '76, Buccaneers '76, Jaguars '95, Panthers '95, Ravens '96, and Texans '02. Also, the Browns missed 96-98, so they only have 41 seasons to work with.

So, let's check the Feb 2010 update:

#1 - Dallas Cowboys (Last Year, #1)

Total Points: 108
Total Playoff Years: 66C, 67C, 68, 69, 70SL, 71S, 72C, 73C, 75SL, 76, 77S, 78SL, 79, 80C, 81C, 82C, 83, 85, 91, 92S, 93S, 94C, 95S, 96, 98, 99, 03, 06, 07, 09

P: 30
4: 8
2: 3
1: 5

Average: 2.45 points per season

#2 - Pittburgh Steelers (#2)

Total Points: 102
Total Playoff Years: 72C, 73, 74S, 75S, 76C, 77, 78S, 79S, 82, 83, 84C, 89, 92, 93, 94C, 95SL, 96, 97C, 01C, 02, 04C, 05S, 07, 08S

P: 24
4: 7
2: 1
1: 6

Average: 2.31 per season

#3 - San Francisco 49ers (#3)

Total Points: 85
Total Playoff Years: 70C, 71C, 72, 81S, 83C, 84S, 85, 86, 87, 88S, 89S, 90C, 92C, 93C, 94S, 95, 96, 97C, 98, 01, 02

P: 21
4: 7
2: 0
1: 5

Average: 1.93

#4 - Oakland Raiders (#4)

Total Points: 77
Total Playoff Years: 67SL, 68C, 69C, 70C, 72, 73C, 74C, 75C, 76S, 77C, 80S, 82, 83S, 84, 85, 90C, 91, 93, 00C, 01, 02SL

P: 21
4: 9
2: 2
1: 3

Average: 1.75

#5 - New England Patriots (#5)

Total Points: 60
Total Playoff Years: 76, 78, 82, 85SL, 86, 94, 96SL, 97, 98, 01S, 03S, 04S, 05, 06C, 07SL, 09

P: 16
4: 1
2: 3
1: 3

Average: 1.36

#6 - Miami Dolphins (#6)

Total Points: 58
Total Playoff Years: 70, 71SL, 72S, 73S, 74, 78, 79, 81, 82SL, 83, 84SL, 85C, 90, 92C, 94, 95, 97, 98, 99, 00, 01, 08

P: 22
4: 2
2: 3
1: 2

Average: 1.32

# 7 - Denver Broncos (#7)

Total Points: 57
Total Playoff Years: 77SL, 78, 79, 83, 84, 86SL, 87SL, 89SL, 91C, 93, 96, 97S, 98S, 00, 03, 04, 05C

P: 17
4: 2
2: 4
1: 2

Average: 1.29

#8 - Washington Redskins (#8)

Total Points: 56
Total Playoff Years: 71, 72SL, 73, 74, 76, 82S, 83SL, 84, 86C, 87S, 90, 91S, 92, 99, 05, 07

P: 16
4: 1
2: 2
1: 3

Average: 1.27

#9 - Green Bay Packers (#9)

Total Points: 54
Total Playoff Years: 66S, 67S, 72, 82, 93, 94, 95C, 96S, 97SL, 98, 01, 02, 03, 04, 07C, 09

P: 16
4: 2
2: 1
1: 3

Average: 1.23

#10 - Indianapolis/Baltimore Colts (#13)

Total Points: 53
Total Playoff Years: 68SL, 70S, 71C, 75, 76, 77, 87, 95C, 96, 99, 00, 02, 03C, 04, 05, 06S, 07, 08, 09SL

P: 19
4: 3
2: 2
1: 2

Average: 1.20

#11 - Minnesota Vikings (#11)

Total Points: 52
Total Playoff Years: 68, 69SL, 70, 71, 73SL, 74SL, 75, 76SL, 77C, 78, 80, 82, 87C, 88, 89, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98C, 99, 00C, 04, 08, 09C

P: 26
4: 5
2: 4
1: 0

Average: 1.18

#12 - St Louis/Los Angeles Rams (#10)

Total Points: 51
Total Playoff Years: 67, 69, 73, 74C, 75C, 76C, 77, 78C, 79SL, 80, 83, 84, 85C, 86, 88, 89C, 99S, 00, 01SL, 03, 04

P: 21
4: 6
2: 2
1: 1

Average: 1.16

#13 - New York Giants (#12)

Total Points: 48
Total Playoff Years: 81, 84, 85, 86S, 89, 90S, 93, 97, 00SL, 02, 05, 06, 07S, 08

P: 14
4: 0
2: 1
1: 3

Average: 1.09

#14 - Buffalo Bills (#14)

Total Points: 34
Total Playoff Years: 66C, 74, 80, 81, 88C, 89, 90SL, 91SL, 92SL, 93SL, 95, 96, 98, 99

P: 14
4: 2
2: 4
1: 0

Average: 0.77

Note: Bills have Super Bowl tie breaker on Eagles, 4-2.

#15 - Philadelphia Eagles (#15)

Total Points: 34
Total Playoff Years: 78, 79, 80SL, 81, 88, 89, 90, 92, 95, 96, 00, 01C, 02C, 03C, 04SL, 06, 08C, 09

P: 18
4: 4
2: 2
1: 0

Average: 0.77

#16 - Chicago Bears (#16)

Total Points: 31
Total Playoff Years: 77, 79, 84C, 85S, 86, 87, 88C, 90, 91, 94, 01, 05, 06SL

P: 13
4: 2
2: 1
1: 1

Average: 0.70

#17 - Kansas City Chiefs (#17)

Total Points: 30
Total Playoff Years: 66SL, 68, 69S, 71, 86, 90, 91, 92, 93C, 94, 95, 97, 03, 06

P: 14
4: 1
2: 1
1: 1

Average: 0.68

Note: Chiefs have tie-breaker on Titans with the Lombardi Trophy edge, 1-0.

#18 - Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers (#18)

Total Points: 30
Total Playoff Years: 67C, 69, 78C, 79C, 80, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 99SL, 00, 02C, 03, 07, 08

P: 18
4: 4
2: 1
1: 0

Average: 0.68

#19 - New York Jets (#19)

Total Points: 29
Total Playoff Years: 68S, 69, 81, 82C, 85, 86, 91, 98C, 01, 02, 04, 06, 09C

P: 13
4: 3
2: 0
1: 1

Average: 0.66

#20 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#20)

Established 1976

Total Points: 24
Total Playoff Years: 79C, 81, 82, 97, 99C, 00, 01, 02S, 05, 07

P: 10
4: 2
2: 0
1: 1

Average: 0.70

Note: Bucs win tiebreak on Browns with Lombardi Trophy, 1-0.

#21 - Cleveland Browns (#21)

Total Points: 24
Total Playoff Years: 67, 68C, 69C, 71, 72, 80, 82, 85, 86C, 87C, 88, 89C, 94, 02

P: 14
4: 5
2: 0
1: 0

Average: 0.54

#22 - San Diego Chargers (#22)

Total Points: 22
Total Playoff Years: 79, 80C, 81C, 82, 92, 94SL, 95, 04, 06, 07C, 08, 09

P: 12
4: 3
2: 1
1: 0

Average: 0.50

#23 – New Orleans Saints (#31)

Established 1967

Total Points: 19
Total Playoff Years: 87, 90, 91, 92, 00, 06C, 09S

P: 7
4: 1
2: 0
1: 1

Average: 0.44

#24 – Baltimore Ravens (#23)

Established 1996

Total Points: 18
Total Playoff Years: 00S, 01, 03, 06, 08C, 09

P: 6
4: 1
2: 0
1: 1

Average: 1.29

#25 - Cincinnati Bengals (#24)

Established 1968

Total Points: 17
Total Playoff Years: 70, 73, 75, 81SL, 82, 88SL, 90, 05, 09

P: 9
4: 0
2: 2
1: 0

Average: 0.40

#26 - Seattle Seahawks (#25)

Established 1976

Total Points: 16
Total Playoff Years: 83C, 84, 87, 88, 99, 03, 04, 05SL, 06, 07

P: 10
4: 1
2: 1
1: 0

Average: 0.47

#27 – Atlanta Falcons (#26)

Total Points: 15
Total Playoff Years: 78, 80, 82, 91, 95, 98SL, 02, 04C, 08

P: 9
4: 1
2: 1
1: 0

Average: 0.34

#28 - Carolina Panthers (#27)

Established 1995

Total Points: 12
Total Playoff Years: 96C, 03SL, 05C, 08

P: 4
4: 2
2: 1
1: 0

Average: 0.80

#29 - Detroit Lions (#28)

Total Points: 11
Total Playoff Years: 70, 82, 83, 91C, 93, 94, 95, 97, 99

P: 9
4: 1
2: 0
1: 0

Average: 0.25

#30 – Arizona/St Louis Cardinals (#30)

Total Points: 10
Total Playoff Years: 74, 75, 82, 98, 08SL, 09

P: 6
4: 0
2: 1
1: 0

Average: 0.23

#31 – Jacksonville Jaguars (#29)

Established 1995

Total Points: 10
Total Playoff Years: 96C, 97, 98, 99C, 05, 07

P: 6
4: 2
2: 0
1: 0

Average: 0.66

#32 – Houston Texans (32)

Established 2002

Total Points: 0
Total Playoff Years: None

P: 0
4: 0
2: 0
1: 0

Average: 0.00

Explanation of Years:
Just the year means they made the playoffs (1 point). Year followed by “C” means they lost in the Conference Championship Game (3 points), Year followed by “SL” means they lost the Super Bowl (5 points), and Year followed by “S” means they won the Super Bowl (11 points).

Version 8.0

Version 7.0

Version 6.0

Monday, February 08, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV: Saints 31, Colts 17

It was a brilliant stand-off. A duel, if you will. Two gun-slinging cowboys who had all of the stakes on the line. All the chips were in the middle of the table. So, who would blink first?

And, at the moment of truth, the one who doesn't blink did. Peyton Manning, who might have been one throw from the top of the pyramid of QB immortality, tumbled as Tracy Porter sat on the slant to Reggie Wayne, jumped the route, and raced 74 yards to seal the unlikely win for a franchise that had never won a thing.

The New Orleans Saints are Super Bowl Champions. It seems odd to say, but the fairy tale that was 5 years in the making has been completed. And Drew Brees, the co-main character in the movie, played an almost perfect game to take down the Goliath across the field in the film's climax. It would come down to who would make the first mistake - the only mistake. Who would not match the other; Peyton or Brees? A great match given that neither make many mistakes. But Brees survived, and Peyton took the walk of shame back to his sideline.

Meanwhile, the other co-main, Sean Payton, deserves plenty of mention himself. Hard to recall any coach roll the dice as often as Payton did in the biggest game of his career. Go for it on 4th Down? Onside kick to start the 2nd half? And blitz Manning on the 3rd and 5 that will go down as the play that Tracy Porter decided the game? Yes, Yes, and Yes. Payton did not want to wake up and have any regrets about moves he could have made. He wanted to leave it all out on the table. I think that some of his moves perhaps told us that he knew he was going to have to roll the bones to have a chance against the Colts. He knew that a straight-up match might not be a fair fight. He was going to have to get creative. And, despite the 4th down not working out, the tone had been set that he was going for it.

And yes, Dallas fans, I have received your emails. I just don't know if anyone would have fired Bill Parcells to keep Sean Payton at the time. You could make the case that Jerry Jones could/should have signed Payton to a deal similar to Jason Garrett's deal that says he will take over when Parcells left, but perhaps the only reason Garrett has that deal is because of Payton. Further, if your ambition is to be a head coach, 90% of guys take the bird in the hand over the two in the bush, which means Payton would have left anyway when the Saints made their offer. The other 10% include Garrett who has turned down at least 2 head coaching jobs since he signed that deal with Jerry.

Anyway, in the biggest game, it came down to Brees and Payton leading the way for their Saints. And now they are Super Bowl Champions. A very entertaining and enjoyable night of NFL football on the grand stage.

Let's do some scatter-shooting:

* Turnovers. The stat that determines the outcome of a game more than any other stat once again helped determine the winner of Super Bowl 44. Simply put, the team that stays out of trouble almost always wins. In the 2009 NFL Playoffs, there were 11 games played. And the winners of the turnover battle? 10-0-1. Only the Colts-Jets AFC Title game was even to keep it going a perfect 11-0. But, as you can see, not one team won in the playoffs when having a negative turnover margin. A perfect post-season for one of the oldest NFL truism. No matter how much football evolves, it cannot get away from that. There was only 1 mis-handle of the ball that ended up falling into enemy hands - and it was the ultimate kill shot.

* In an era where it seems blitzing is the only way to slow down QBs, I found it particularly interesting last night that both teams largely conceded that it is too dangerous to blitz the other's QB. Brees and Manning have actually scared many of their opponents into not pressuring at all (not including Rex Ryan). But, really, both QBs had all day. Whereas, the game before, Greg Williams blitz Brett Favre plenty and beat him physically. With Manning, he hardly blitzed at all, but saved for a few key moments in the game, including the 3rd and 5 I have now referenced again. It is the ultimate pick-your-poison scenario, and most of us will always prefer the blitz from our defense - but it should be noted that most of the damage that both QBs did last night was on passes of less than 10 yards and a series of dump offs and quick WR routes. It makes it more difficult to get guys open down field if you drop 7 into coverage, and both QBs get rid of the ball very quickly in normal Down-and-Distance situations so that they almost never get touched.

* Pierre Thomas is a punishing RB who seems like a load to bring down. Really, quite a playoff for guys named "Pierre" as he was joined in the endzone by Pierre Garcon again. Surely the biggest such season ever.

* Speaking of RBs, was everyone else aware that the 26-yard carry for Joseph Addai was his longest since Christmas Eve, 2006? That seems shockingly pedestrian.

* As I wrote about last week , an entire career can turn on one play. In South Florida, Peyton Manning was being crowned as one of the very best QBs of all time pending his assumed victory in his 2nd Super Bowl. Was he as good as Joe Montana? Was he better than Aikman? But, 1 crazy 2-point conversion followed a few minutes later with a jumped route, and now we are all looking at Peyton's all time playoff record of 9-9 and wondering what is so impressive about that. 1 play. From penthouse to being questioned again. There is only 1 way to survive the insanity of the greatness argument - retire 2 days after you win your Super Bowl. If Drew Brees was worried about an unqualified legacy, he should retire right now. Hopefully, none of these guys play football to satisfy message boards and talk shows, because there are very few who ever can do that.

* Thank goodness for instant replay. Although I cannot swear they totally interpreted the rule properly, how big was that 2-point conversion? In real time, it looked proper to say Lance Moore never controlled the ball. But in slow motion, it seemed clear that he did. Does everything happen the same after the fact if it is just 22-17? Maybe. But, it is a major difference in thinking that the Colts are driving to send this game into overtime rather than driving to win the game out-right at 24-22. Anyway, that is a long way of saying that I appreciate the technological advances in trying to get calls right.

* You will remember the name Garrett Hartley after this last month, right? 4 weeks ago, I am not sure I could name the Saints kicker, but after putting one of the most "money" performances for a kicker in the 2 biggest games of the season, he has cemented a chance at a nice long career in the NFL. Southlake is proud, I am sure. What a job.

* Don't we all expect a little better from Reggie Wayne? He is generally unquestioned in his performances, but two pretty key moments happened that can be linked to #87; Porter beating him to the spot on the slant (which absolutely cannot happen), and then the TD that went through his hands on the Colts final drive that might have at least made an onside kick attempt. It has been pretty clear that the gameplan has been to make Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie beat you, and I wonder how Reggie Wayne has been able to stay in the game and to continue to be ready for his moment. He did have 11 targets in the game, but only generated 46 yards from that total - 5th most on the Colts. Not a great performance at all.

* Having studied the Cowboys game plan all season, I was interested in charting personnel groups for both teams last night. There were two discoveries worthy of mention. First, for the Colts, it is clear that they have one primary personnel group that is 1RB-1TE-3WR or as we call "11". They do not rotate in new groups like Garrett does every snap, but rather play almost the entirety of the game with either "11" or "S11" with Manning in Shotgun. Otherwise, the only personnel change would be Joseph Addai to Donald Brown. Almost no 2 TE, 2 WR, or FB in the entire offense. Interesting. Then for the Saints, they wanted to have all 3 WR to one side of the field with Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey on the weak side running their games against safeties or Line Backers. They did this quite a bit, including the long pass play to Bush and the TD to Shockey. It is really just about finding match-ups, and if you put all of your speed WRs on one side of the field, you force the defense to match it, and thus, expose themselves on the weak side. I enjoy football.

* Because this is interesting to me, I always try to update the record books with help from Elias Sports Bureau :

Super Bowl records set in Super Bowl XLIV

-Highest completion percentage, career (minimum: 30 completions): 82.1, Drew Brees, New Orleans
-Most completions, game, both teams: 63, New Orleans (32) vs. Indianapolis (31)
-Highest completion percentage, game, both teams: 75.0, New Orleans (82.1) vs. Indianapolis (68.9)
-Most field goals, 40-or-more yards, game: 3, Garrett Hartley, N.O.
-Oldest player: 42, Matt Stover, Indianapolis

Super Bowl records tied in Super Bowl XLIV

Largest deficit overcome, winning team: 10 points, New Orleans
Most completions, game: 32, Drew Brees, N.O.
Most two-point conversions, game: 1, Lance Moore, N.O.
Most yards, touchdown drive: 96, Indianapolis
Most first downs passing, game, both teams: 32, Indianapolis (16) vs. New Orleans (16)
Fewest rushing attempts, game, both teams: 37, New Orleans (18) vs. Indianapolis (19)
Most completions, game, team: 32, New Orleans
Fewest times sacked, game, team: 0, Indianapolis
Fewest times sacked, game, both teams: 1, Indianapolis (0) vs. New Orleans (1)
Fewest fumbles, game, both teams: 0, Indianapolis vs. New Orleans
Fewest turnovers, game, team: 0, New Orleans

* Finally, just a simple note about the Saints fans. I think in this cynical society, we want to laugh at someone who can lose their minds over something as trivial as a sporting event, but I want to avoid that here. I think it is awesome when we can find a truly long-suffering fan base that has not been ruined by success and greed and entitlement. You see, Saints fans at this moment in time are experiencing victory for the very 1st time. Like a kiss, there is never a 2nd time that holds up. The truth is, in 3 or 4 years, Saints fans may grow into the same fans that annoy us from those who win regularly and demand excellence or else. There is something refreshing about a team that has never won. There is crying and joy and amazing elation that can never be matched again. So, as the scene in New Orleans is going on, with even the extra baggage of a natural disaster still being felt, this is a moment where I think most people, regardless of who they root for, can feel great for that city and organization. They are one of the last fan bases who "deserve" this. Long-suffering, die-hard fans are hard to find anymore. Good for them.

I love my sports, there is no doubt about it. But, I love my NFL more. You can tell me that pitchers and catchers are about to report or that the Daytona 500 is next week or that March Madness is right around the corner, but it just isn't the same. With the end of last night's game, it dawned on me, yet again, that the greatest league in the world is going competitively dark for the next 7 months. And that makes me miss it already.

Hurry back, NFL.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Top 10 Super Bowls

In the last couple days leading up to Super bowl XLIV I have been reflecting on the games that have been played in my lifetime. These thoughts about my favorite day of the year got me to thinking, which Super Bowls would be in my top ten? Recently we have been treated to some great games, some of the best ever. Five of the last eight games have been decided by seven points or less, including three that had scores to win the game on the final play.

Being 34 years old I would say it isn't fair for me to rank the Super Bowls before my time. But with technology and help of the NFL network re-airing games I feel I can make an educated decision.

For the debates sake, the first one I remember watching was Super Bowl XVI at the Pontiac Silverdome when I was 6. I remember them talking about how cold it was in Detroit and that the "winshield" was well below zero. You see six year olds have a hard time understanding that it was actually called windchill.

Either way so you know as this list was made I remember everything from Super Bowls XVI to present. All the Bowls prior, I have either read about, watched the NFL Films highlights or watched the re-aired game. To be fair Super Bowls I-XV will not have brought out the same emotion as the last 28 games and therefore you may have a greater emotional attachment to those games prior to my time on the planet. With that said, here is my Top 10 and let the debate begin starting 10-1.

10. Super Bowl III New York Jets 16 Baltimore 13

Famous For: Joe Willy’s guarantee
MVP: Joe Namath
Site: Orange Bowl, Miami

Reason at # 10:
The game itself wasn't very good. I just watched it the other night in it's entirety on the NFL Network. But its historical merit is inevitable. The AFL's Jets were 18.5 point underdogs to the NFL's Baltimore Colts, who were 13-1 during the regular season.

Namath threw for 206 yards and managed the game behind Matt Snell's 121 yards rushing. Earl Morral got the start at quarterback for Baltimore and was replaced by an aging Johnny Unitas who missed parts of the season due to an arm injury. Unitas led the Colts to their only touchdown late.

9. Super Bowl XXIII San Francisco 20 Cincinnati 16

Famous For: Joe Montana's 92 yard drive to win the game. Also John Candy eating popcorn in the far end zone.
MVP: Jerry Rice
Site: Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami

Reason at # 9: This game would be remembered for Joe Montana raising the level of his play when the contest was at its apex of pressure. The drive started with 3:10 left in the game and Montana’s niners’ on their eight yard line. Joe used game MVP Jerry Rice as his go to receiver until the final moment when he found John Taylor in the end zone with just :34 seconds remaining to cap the 11 play 92 yard drive resulting in a 20-16 victory for the 49ers. Rice was so dominant on the drive that NFL Films cameras caught Sam Wyche saying before the touchdown pass to Taylor, “It’s to Rice now”. The genius of Montana looked to Taylor who was wide open in the end zone.

The Bengals had a chance to seal the victory on the fatal drive but defensive back Lewis Billups dropped a “would be” interception. For the Bengals it was also marred by Stanley Wilson’s insatiable cocaine habit. The night before the game on his way to a meeting he told teammates that he had to go back to his room for his playbook. He was found later in his room doing massive amounts of blow that subsequently had him left off the Super Bowl roster the next day.

8. Super Bowl XXXVIII New England 32 Carolina 29

Famous For: Adam Vinatieri kicking 41 yard Super Bowl winning field goal.
MVP: Tom Brady
Site: Reliant Stadium, Houston

Reason at # 8: Up until the fourth quarter this game was kind of a dud and also included the Carolina Panthers that I don’t think people gave much of a chance to.

Down 21-10 at the start of the fourth quarter and following an Antwan Smith touchdown the Panthers ripped off consecutive touchdown drives. The teams traded points until Carolina tied the game with 1:08 left at 29-29.

The most underrated play of the evening happened on the ensuing kickoff when John Kasay kicked the ball out of bounds allowing New England to start at the 40 yard line. Six plays later, an Adam Vinatieri kicks the game winner, Tom Brady gets MVP and marries super model. Game over.

7. Super Bowl XIII Pittsburgh 35 Dallas 31

Famous For: “Jackie Smith, bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America.” – Verne Lundquist
MVP: Terry Bradshaw
Site: Orange Bowl, Miami

Reason at # 7: This was the best game of the first 13 and a great rivalry that had another great matchup in Super Bowl X.

The most memorable moment happened when Roger Staubach threw the ball into the end zone to a wide open tight end Jackie Smith who dropped the third down pass that would have tied the game. Cowboys settled for a FG and a 21-17 deficit.

Moments later the Steelers put the game out of reach scoring twice in 19 seconds. Once recovering a fumble when Steelers kicker Roy Gerela slipped and kicked the ball short to DT Randy White. White who had a cast on his arm fumbled while trying to run with the short kickoff. The Steelers got the ball back and Franco Harris took it in later for a score icing the game. Dallas scored twice late but came up short in a thriller.

Years later, Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson admitted using cocaine during the game by hiding a Dristan bottle in his thigh pad. He later got sober and won the lotto.

6. Super Bowl XXXIV St. Louis 23 Tennessee 16
Famous For: Mike Jones tackle on the 1 yard line
MVP: Kurt Warner
Site: Atlanta Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Reason at #6: Trailing 16-0 the Titans roared back and became for the first team in Super Bowl history to erase a 16 point deficit when Al Del Greco kicked a 43 yard FG to tie the game with just over two minutes remaining.

The next play NFL and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner threw a 73 yard bomb to Isaac Bruce to put the Rams ahead 23-16. Warner threw for a record 414 yards.

With the game on the line and no timeouts on the final play, late great Titans quarterback Steve McNair fired a dart to Kevin Dyson. As Dyson was about to score, somehow he was miraculously tackled by Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopping him 1 yard short of the goal line with no time left. The Rams won, and Dick Vermeil cried tears of joy.

5. Super Bowl XXXVI New England 20 St. Louis 17
Famous For: Adam Vinatieri’s first Super Bowl winner
MVP: Tom Brady
Site: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans

Reason at #5: The first Super Bowl after the terrorist attacks had the nation red, white, and blue cheering for the underdog Patriots. Kurt Warner led the charge again as he orchestrated a great comeback, this time down 17-10 late by hitting journeyman Ricky Proehl for a 28 yard game tying td with just over a minute left.

First year starter Tom Brady, with no timeouts then countered leading the Patriots quickly into field goal range. It was a kick that changed history, and placed Adam Vinatirei among the NFL’s greatest as he nailed a 48 yarder at the gun to beat the “Greatest Show on Turf” and kickoff the New England Dynasty.

4. Super Bowl XXV New York Giants 20 Buffalo 19
Famous For: Scott Norwood’s 47 yards wide right
MVP: Ottis Anderson
Site: Tampa Stadium, Tampa
Reason at #4: In one of the best finishes in Super Bowl history, it was New York’s muscle against Buffalo’s flash.

The Giants held the ball for over 40 minutes of game time as they set a Super Bowl record for time of possession. As they held a 20-19 lead late when Matt Bahr kicked a 21 yard field goal, the Bills pushed back behind Thurman Thomas’ offensive explosion. He rushed for 135 yards and caught 55 yards in passes while leading the Bills into Scott Norwood’s field goal range.

History would be made, and the fate of Scott Norwood would be forever be linked with Super Bowl failure, as the great kicker watched his 47 yard try push wide right as time expired.

The Giants won the first of two championships, while the Bills would lose the first of an NFL record four straight title games. Scott Norwood moved on as a successful business owner.
3. Super Bowl XXXII Denver 31 Green Bay 24

Famous For: John Elways third down dive (The Helicopter)
MVP: Terrell Davis
Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Reason at #3: To me this was my favorite game. That was because being a sorry ass Vikings fan the last thing I wanted to see was the Packers win again. But really the most important thing was, for guys like Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and many others it was possibly the last chance to see a great like John Elway get a shot to get himself a ring.

This game was great from the hop, they traded points in each of the four quarters including leads and three ties. Brett Favre was excellent at a young age throwing for three touchdowns and 256 yards, while the Broncos countered behind the running of Terrell Davis’ game MVP 30 carries for 157 yards.

The signature moment came when Elway on third and eight wasn’t going to be denied by a fourth Super Bowl defeat as he lowered his head into two Packer defenders and was helicoptered into the air for the first down. The Broncos scored two plays later to go up 7 in the third quarter.

The Broncos linebacker John Mobley would then knockdown Brett Favre’s fourth down pass and Johnny Ballgame would end up with his long awaited Super Bowl Ring.

2. Super Bowl XLII New York 17 New England 14

Famous For: David Tyree’s pin it to the helmet catch
MVP: Eli Manning
Site: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ

Reason at #2: This was a wonderful game that New York executed to perfection. The reason I have it at #2 and not #1 is because of the lack of excitement for a full 60 minutes. The Giants played ball control and kept the best offense in NFL history off the field for much of the game. The two teams combined for a Super Bowl record, only two possessions in the first quarter.

Is it coincidence that Randy Moss played for the two top scoring offenses in NFL history? Not a chance. Unfortunately Moss was shutdown for the most part in the biggest game of the season, much like in the 1998 NFC Championship when his team was defeated. Moss did look like for a moment like he had rose to the occasion when he caught a touchdown pass in the final moments. It was his 5th catch for a total of 63 yards but it was his TD that seemed to put the Giants away and solidify the first 19-0 season in NFL history.

Apparently an undefeated season wasn’t to be as Eli Manning defied the odds and David Tyree defied everything we knew about pass catching and on a mad scramble third down play to keep the season alive. Giants quarterback Eli Manning heaved the ball into a crowd, and as to the Oakland Raiders was the “Sea if hands” to the Giants became “David and Eliath.”

The season and the Giants remained alive, but it wasn’t over until Manning found Plaxico Burris on a 13 yard TD pass beating cornerback Ellis Hobbs for the most “Giant” of Super Bowl comebacks!

The play was a slant and go or Slugo that freed up Burris, now Burris has two years until he is free. How fame can be fleeting, eh?

1. Super Bowl XLIII Pittsburgh 27 Arizona 23

Famous For: Santonio Holmes catch
MVP: Santonio Holmes
Site: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Reason at #1: The greatest Super Bowl of all in my opinion. The underdog Cardinals and their veteran QB Kurt Warner matched up against the Pittsburgh Steelers trying to win an unprecedented sixth world championship.
In a battle of Warner brains and Roethlisburger brawn, it was a goal line play and a Warner mistake that changed this contest. Considered the architect of the “Zone Blitz” Dick LeBeau had the call in on a third down play from the Steelers 1-yard line as Arizona looked to go ahead into the half. Warner took the snap an was hurried by the blitz, looking to his “hot” receiver he delivered a rushed pass into the waiting arms of James Harrison. Harrison a linebacker rumbled an NFL Super Bowl record 100 yards into the Cardinals end zone giving the Steelers a 20-7 lead.
Undaunted the Cardinals retaliated with 16 unanswered points that included a Warner to Larry Fitzgerald 64 yard touchdown with 2:37 remaining to put the upstarts in the lead 23-20.
What looked like an improbable comeback by one team turned into the same for the other. The Steelers marched 78-yards to score on wide receiver Santonio Holmes's 6-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 35 seconds left. Holmes, who caught nine passes for 131 yards and a touchdown, including four receptions for 71 yards on that final game-winning drive, was named Super Bowl MVP.
The play in my opinion, and although I wanted the Cardinals to win, capped the greatest of the 43 Super Bowls.
With only a day until the 44th installment of the greatest one game, I hope we get one of these great games knocked out of the Top 10 on at least somebody’s list.

My prediction Colts 27 Saints 24 in overtime! Enjoy the game.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Super Bowl 44 Prediction Time

Tis the last morning in South Florida so let's knock out a few last items and do a show and get out of here. Good times, but you know, home sweet home is always better than wherever we go. Seriously.

I have the Colts winning this Super Bowl for a number of reasons, not the least of which boils down to what might be the greatest QB of our generation, Peyton Manning, under center. At first I tried to deny it, and then it became incredibly undeniable. He is awesome. He is the best. He is in control and happy to receive your blitz and then to burn it.

There are plenty of interesting elements to this game that can keep it extremely close, and if things go just right there is no reason the Saints cannot spring an upset, but it is really at your own peril to pick against Peyton Manning these days. I just refuse to do it given the way he is playing right now.


Honestly, my biggest question is wondering what this means to his overall legacy. Assuming he wins, is he all-time Top 5? Top 3?

2 fun facts from the last time the Colts played a Super Bowl in Miami just 3 years ago:

1. The last 5 #1 seeds to make the Super Bowl from the NFC have lost. Bears, Seahawks, Eagles, Rams and Giants.

The Saints are the #1 seed from the NFC.

2. In all four Super Bowls played in Dolphins/Joe Robbie Stadium the losing team has had a kickoff return for a TD. Bengals ('89) - Stanford Jennings; Chargers ('95) - Andre Coleman; Falcons ('99) - Tim Dwight; Bears ('07) - Devon Hester

Not sure what you would do with that 2nd one, except dazzle your friends.


By popular demand, The 1999 SI Feature on Peyton Manning that we reference all of the time. He is a football genius, but perhaps not the sharpest tool in life. Or, maybe it is just an awesome counter story in his portfolio.


Earlier in the week , we debated this incoming class for the hall of fame:

Here is who we have this year:


Player Pos. Team(s) Years
Tim Brown WR LA/Oak., TB 1988-04
Cris Carter WR Phil., Min., Mia 1987-02
Don Coryell Coach StL Cards, SD 1973-86
Roger Craig RB SF, LA Rai., Min. 1983-93
Dermonti Dawson C Pitt. 1988-00
Richard Dent DE Chi, SF, Ind., Phi 1983-97
Russ Grimm G Wash. 1981-91
Charles Haley DE-LB SF, Dallas 1986-99*
Rickey Jackson LB New Orl., SF 1981-95
Cortez Kennedy DT Seattle 1990-00
Dick LeBeau CB Detroit 1959-72
Floyd Little RB Denver 1967-75
John Randle DT Minn., Sea. 1990-03
Andre Reed WR Buff., Wash. 1985-00
Jerry Rice WR SF, Oak., Sea. 1985-04
Shannon Sharpe TE Den., Bal. 1990-03
Emmitt Smith RB Dallas, Ari. 1990-04

I am pretty sure that Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith are in. So, we have 2-4 more spots to roll with.

Lebeau and Little are Veteran committee selections so I think they generally have an excellent chance. So that leaves Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Shannon Sharpe, Charles Haley, Richard Dent, and Don Coryell as the front runners to battle for the final 2 or 3 spots.

Last night, I had a chance to visit with the Goose, Rick Gosselin, and pick his brain extensively about the process and the Hall of Fame class, 2010.

First off, know that there are 44 voters (Blind Vote) and that it requires 36 or more votes to be inducted. "9 and you're dead" was the quote the Goose used. Must eclipse 80% to break on through to the other side.

He wrote earlier this week about the deep WR class, And his view that only Rice gets in this year :

Jerry Rice retired from the NFL as the game's all-time leading receiver. He figures to be the first wideout enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot since Steve Largent in 1995.

That was 15 years ago.

That's bad news for Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed – the other three wide receivers in the finals for the Class of 2010. Canton has not enshrined two wideouts in the same class since Bobby Mitchell and Paul Warfield in 1983.

That was 27 years ago.

Like Largent and Rice, Art Monk retired as the NFL's career receiving leader. But he wasn't enshrined until his eighth year of eligibility. Lynn Swann waited 14 years, John Stallworth 10 and Don Maynard nine.

Bob Hayes waited 29 years after the clock started ticking on his eligibility for enshrinement, and Tommy McDonald waited 25. Both candidacies were rescued by the Hall of Fame's senior committee.

There are 20 wideouts in the Hall of Fame but there has been no rush to enshrine them.

The selection committee seems to be waiting to absorb the explosion of receiving statistics. When Largent went in, his 819 catches were an NFL record. He now ranks 20th.

There are six receivers with 1,000 career catches, including Rice, Carter and Brown. Four more wideouts could join them in the next two seasons. The committee is trying to sort out how much of that can be attributed to talent and how much to the changing style of the game.

Then, he wrote about Haley's chances on Tuesday :

The numbers have long been out of whack in Canton. There have been 214 men enshrined in the Hall of Fame in the game's modern era. More than half (50.9 percent) of them played on offense – but only 30.4 percent on defense and 18.2 percent coaches and contributors.

The NFL axiom is that defense wins championships, but it obviously doesn't get you inducted into Canton. There are 109 offensive players enshrined and only 65 defensive players. In fact, there are more offensive skills players – 68 quarterbacks, running backs and receivers – than all defensive players combined.

That disparity in numbers gives Haley reason for hope in his first trip as a finalist. A maximum of five modern-era candidates will be selected for the Class of 2010, and Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith already have claims on two of those spots.

But there has been a trend in recent years to close the gap between offense and defense in the Hall. The last two years marked the first time in history that back-to-back classes have featured more defensive enshrinees than offensive.

So I'm speculating that two of the remaining three spots in the Class of 2010 would go to defensive players. There are only five defensive candidates: pass rushers Haley and Richard Dent, tackles Cortez Kennedy and John Randle and linebacker Rickey Jackson.

As one candidate in a slate of 15, Haley would stand less than a 10 percent chance of being included in the Class of 2010. But as one candidate in a slate of five defenders, his chances could increase to 20 percent.

From all I have read, here are my picks for the 2010 Hall of Fame class (although there is always a shocker):

Jerry Rice
Emmitt Smith
Dick LeBeau - check his numbers. Remarkable CB.
Richard Dent
Shannon Sharpe
John Randle

I think Haley, Reed, Brown, and Chris Carter are also in eventually (Jackson, Dawson, and Coryell have me on the fence), but those 6 above are my ballot. Boy, I would love to have a ballot. I think that might be my biggest sports media aspiration.